9 ways to work better as a team with Gemba walk

Workplace management is a highly observational task. You need to make sure that everything is taken into account to find opportunities for improvement, and to make sure that your entire team is on the same page. The Gemba walk process is all about realizing these organizational goals by adopting a lean management philosophy to minimize wasteful activities and establish successful collaboration. In this article, we explain how you can work better as a team with Gemba Walk!

What is Gemba Walk?

At Toyota they use the word Gemba to refer to “the place where things happen”. In operational terms, Gemba refers to the environment (plant, store, web) where the value of products, solutions or services is created and delivered.

This is not limited to the production plant or the physical store, it extends to all activities and human networks that create and add value to the product (production, distribution, logistics, communication and sales). 

Gemba is a work philosophy within companies. It’s a model that guides all the teams in the organization in their way of doing things and that can be used to detect problems and find areas of improvement. As for Gemba walks, they consist of gathering information by walking around, observing and interacting with employees. 

Gemba walks allow businesses to optimize their operations by:

  • Removing barriers between leadership and workers
  • Increasing business process efficiency and productivity
  • Saving time and reducing wasteful activities
  • Accelerating data collection time
  • Helping thoroughly document issues
  • Producing fast assessment and problem-solving

How to do a Gemba walk? | Steps and Tools Needed

9 tips to work better as a team with Gemba walk

Here are key tips to work better as a team with Gemba walk:

  1. Ensure that your team is prepared
  2. Define a road map
  3. Involve everyone
  4. Don’t penalize workers
  5. Keep record
  6. Mix up the timing
  7. Ask about everything
  8. Save suggestions for later
  9. Reflect

1. Ensure that your team is prepared

One of the most important steps for a successful Gemba walk is to make sure that all of your employees and team members are prepared for the walk. This means that they should know the purpose of the Gemba walk process and understand how it can remove obstacles in their workflow. This helps make the activity less of an interrogation and more of an opportunity for effective collaboration.

Some workers may assume that this improvement process serves only to criticize the employees, and to attribute blame to them. This assumption could not be further from the truth, but it’s understandable since the lean management philosophy is rather recent, and traditional business practices often create a “us and them” dynamic. By effectively briefing your team on the Gemba walk process, and how it is meant to improve their life at work, they will be more willing to collaborate.

2. Have a defined road map

Once your team is on the same page, and they know what will happen during the walk, the next step is to define a roadmap to execute your Gemba walk checklists. The Gemba walk process is not your average management by walking. The walk is used to target different KPIs rather than generalized problems. 

For example, if the observer is gathering information about workplace diversity, then he will have a prescribed set of questions to ask employees during the walk. If it’s a safety Gemba walk, the checklist will be limited to your industry’s health and safety regulations.

How long should a Gemba walk take?

3. Involve everyone

The most misunderstood part of the Gemba walk is when people assume that the work is solely executed by the observer. However, that is not the case. Everyone in your team should play their role in the improvement process, rather than just some key employees.

To initiate effective teamwork using the Gemba walk, make sure to collect input from all the workers and bystanders that are involved in the company. Of course, it depends on the purpose of your inquiry, but employees should feel comfortable to communicate wasteful activities or relevant information. Enhancing communication leads to high-performing teams.

4. Don’t penalize the workers

The goal of the Gemba walk is to ensure fluid and optimized work processes to achieve organizational goals. This can only take place if a work environment welcomes its employees to genuinely and effectively collaborate during the Gemba walk process. If speaking the truth is reprimanded and prevents career development, you won’t be able to implement a culture of continuous improvement within your organization. 

5. Keep a record

To make sure that your Gemba walk process is effective, keep a record of everything that employees share. Effective collaboration should not fall on deaf ears, and their input should be recorded to find opportunities for improvement. If employees continually make a recommendation but never see action, the whole process won’t be seen as an opportunity for successful collaboration anymore, but as an administrative rubber stamp.

6. Mix up the timings

For an accurate depiction of the work process, make sure to mix up the timings of your visit on the floor. For instance, if you coordinate your Gemba walk process around lunchtime you might notice that certain employees don’t respect the lunch schedule assigned to them. Once again, rather than reprimanding right away for doing so, ask why. You may learn that since a specific person is on break, others can’t do their job since they depend on them!

7. Ask about everything

Do not assume that a task is done to its general standard at all times and by all employees. By asking about everything and not believing in any preconceived notions, you will find opportunities for improvement. When workers deviate from the content on your Gemba walk checklists, it’s important to stay tuned because you may discover pertinent information.

8. Save the suggestions for later

During the Gemba walk, focus on the process instead of giving suggestions to workers right away. This will ensure that you don’t get sidetracked and that you conduct an effective Gemba walk. It is very humane to jump to conclusions and make improvements there and then, but the changes that you need to apply should only be made after you reflect upon your decisions and ask for suggestions from employees.

How to improve your business with Gemba walk

9. Reflect

Once you’ve made your tour and spoken to the entire team concerned by your specific inquiry, it’s critical that you take the time to review the exchange you’ve shared for it to be considered an effective collaboration. By grouping recurring themes or focusing on an outlier suggestion, you will find gems to perfect work processes.

You should not only digest the information that was collected during your Gemba walk, but also ask yourself some questions. What other questions could I ask next time? Did I cut an employee off when they were talking? Did I approach them at a bad time during production? As you can see, Gemba walk is all about continuous improvement, both for your business processes and your leadership team.

Digitize your Gemba Walk