Recently my son and I were in a hardware store to purchase a new wax seal for his family’s leaking toilet. It had been a while since I last had to replace a wax seal and therefore was surprised to see a range of technologies that were available for this pretty basic household element. As we discussed the options with the sales person he expounded on his formula for success in any endeavor; “You have to be smarter than what you are working with.” He then added “In this case, I think the two of you will be able to successfully change out the toilet seal.” Hmmm, was this a compliment or a sarcastic put down? We did some push back about this, had some light hearted laughter, then went home and successfully and safely conquered the toilet challenge.
However, the dialogue about being smarter than who you are working with just doesn’t sync with my personal experience in safety or management. Successful continuous improvement teams have good people who individually excel in necessary attributes like leadership, practical problem solving, execution, communication, etc. As with any well performing team, no one person knows it all, or is superior in all aspects of what it takes to successfully execute the challenges before them. Success has each member contributing to their best in the difficulties that the total team must wrestle with.
I have worked on many teams with numerous people who were far better than I was at the individual tasks we faced. However, together with each of us doing our part where we had individual expertise we succeeded way beyond what one superior person could have done. This is true in operations, quality and most definitely in safety where a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills and capabilities are necessary.