Successful Six Sigma teams need people with a range of skills. You need a leader, people who understand and can apply Six Sigma principles, and then people who will carry out the ‘grunt work.’
Typically speaking, a Six Sigma team will include at least the following members:
- Black Belt: This expert has a deep understanding of Six Sigma principles. Thus, they will organize and plan out a project.
- Green Belt: These people understand Six Sigma principles but have not mastered every aspect of Six Sigma. They can support a Black Belt in applying them to a project; however, they will not lead the project.
- Supporting staff: Might be a Yellow Belt, or likewise, an individual willing to learn on the job about Six Sigma principles and practices.
Team Member Roles
There are a lot of potential roles in a Six Sigma team. Some of these are essential, full-time roles, while others will come and go at various stages in a project, as needed.
- Team Leader: Responsible for getting the team to go. Sometimes a facilitator. Sometimes the project manager whenever needed.
- Facilitator: Usually a Black Belt or Master Black Belt. Coaches the team in Six Sigma practices.
- Scribe: Records the team activities.
- Sponsor: A business leader who sponsors the Six Sigma project. Will tend to set project objectives and obtain resources for the team. Occasionally a liaison between the team and senior management.
- Champion: Executive who sponsors a specific Six Sigma project. Ensures that resources are available. Resolves any cross-functional team issues. (Sometimes, this is the same as the sponsor, but different companies will use different titles.)
- Six Sigma Leader: Executive who’s by and largely responsible for the Six Sigma culture in the company.
- Process Owner: Person responsible for the business process targeted by a Six Sigma project.
- Team member: Person who will work on a project. Usually has specific relevant skills.
- Gatekeeper: Audits the deliverables. Checks them against requirements.
- Management: Provides resources as well as motivation.
Types of Six Sigma Teams
There are many different types of Six Sigma teams. The type of team you need will depend on the sort of project you need to complete. Some teams will straddle more than one of the definitions below. For example, many Six Sigma teams are cellular and self-directed.
- Ad hoc: Pulled together for a single, short-term project. Team member skills align closely with project needs.
- Cellular: A permanent core of team members with broad skill sets.
- Self-directed: Operates with minimal input from management. Typically decides practices and activities for itself. Often seen in Agile methodologies like Lean.
- Cross-functional: Members from several different departments. Usually with very different skills and knowledge sets.
- Parallel teams: Two teams working with the same objective. Alternatively, one team backs up another.
See Types of Six Sigma Teams for more information on team types.
Team Dynamics and Mechanics
Team dynamics and mechanics are important considerations. Some questions that every team will have to answer are:
- Communication: How will we communicate between ourselves? How about people outside the team?
- Meetings: What sort of meetings will we have? How often? Who will be invited to each type of meeting?
- Decisions: Who will be making decisions about the project? How will they be made?
- Facilitation: How will we work out issues between team members? How will we handle inter-team issues? Who will be responsible for identifying process problems?
- Task distribution: Who decides who does what?
- Training: Who’ll be handling team training needs? Who will identify which member needs what training?
- Motivation: How will the team stay motivated? What will keep the team inspired? Where will we find a boost when needed?
Some teams will need to sort out these answers for themselves. Others will have most of them answered by company policies or existing frameworks.
For more information, see Team Dynamics and Mechanics. Also, see Stages of Team Growth and Team Conflict Prevention & Resolution.
High and Low Performing Six Sigma Teams
There are some key indicators of team performance. We see them repeatedly in Six Sigma teams that are performing well – and those that aren’t. Let’s look at a few:
- Interdependency: There are two parts to this. Working together on tasks; and using each other’s specialty skills to finish tasks more quickly.
- Mechanics: Team mechanics need to be clearly defined. Then, they need to be followed.
- Communication: Passing data is hugely important in any project. The team needs to know who to inform about each development; and, for that matter, who is responsible.
- Conflict: Resolving disagreements between members in a healthy way.
- Support: Having the support of managers is key. They can provide needed resources and encouragement.
So to summarize, poorly performing teams tend to:
- Have members act independently of each other.
- Lack defined team mechanics or fail to follow those that are laid out.
- Struggle to communicate with each other. Conversely, don’t talk well to other teams.
- Fail to resolve conflict by following procedures.
- Not having support from management for their practices and decisions.
Whereas highly performing teams tend to:
- Work together, using each others’ skills.
- Have well-defined team mechanics they follow.
- Communicate well between members and teams.
- Follow conflict resolution procedures to solve issues.
- Have all the resources they need.
Choosing Team Members
The type of people you choose will largely depend on the team and project. However, there are a few key attributes that are common to all:
- Listening: It will take time to understand what other team members are saying.
- Critical thinking: Can distinguish between fact and opinion. Will consider information objectively.
- Team player: It might seem obvious, but the best team members work well with others. However, they can also act independently. They’re willing to join in meetings and perform rote tasks.