Tours R Us (aka Why Sharing & Teaching are the best way to Learn)

After being recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize, my plant became an overnight hot spot for benchmarking.  Hardly a week went by when there was not a visit from a distinguished visitor, Fortune 500 company, professional organization or college class.   Initially we accepted the visits because of the good publicity for the company; good news sells products. 

But very quickly we discovered that the process of sharing our continuous improvement story had a powerful effect on our employee and management commitment to Lean.  This was not an outcome that I had anticipated.  Sharing with visitors encouraged us to learn more; quoting a Latin proverb, “Docendo discimus,” the best way to learn is to teach.  Anticipating a tour, employees were motivated to polish their efforts; to find one more before-and- after anecdote about changeovers or mistake-proofing or kanban or some clever idea they had implemented to make the job easier.  Front line workers, many of whom had never previously been asked about their work, spoke eloquently about reducing waste and creating value.  It was exciting for them to share knowledge and to be recognized for their grasps of topics that still eluded many of our visitors.  “The engagement of your employees is an inspiration to me,” noted a visitor from a well-known automotive manufacture.  “So many good ideas; how did this happen?”   There was no single answer to that question.

One day, after a double-decker bus carrying students and faculty from a well-known business school pulled out of our parking lot, an employee from our welding department commented, “You know, Bruce, it’s fun having these tours and being able to tell our story to visitors, but how about holding a tour for our own employees?”   He continued.  “I’ve been building parts for our assembly department for many years, but have never really seen how those parts are used.”   

The efficacy of this idea hit me instantly.  It was an enormous missed opportunity.  Shortly thereafter, the first of many employee tours was scheduled.  Long before the terms “value stream” or Yokoten ever became part of the Lean lexicon, we were practicing and gaining the benefits.  In the process, departmental boundaries were blurred and many more ideas stimulated and shared from the opportunity to see the whole rather than just the parts.  A long-time employee commented to me after an employee tour.  “We’re ‘Tours R Us.’  It’s a good thing.”  

What are you doing to remove the silos and stimulate idea sharing in your organization?   Let me hear from you. 


BTW – Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with your Lean community and share ideas about involving all of your employees in continuous improvement.  Our 15th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is all about engaging your entire workforce to create value for your customers.  We hope you will join us October 23-24 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.  Listen to this important message from the Old Lean Dude to learn more. 

6 thoughts on “Tours R Us (aka Why Sharing & Teaching are the best way to Learn)

  1. Gabrielle Place

    Great post! Many other companies could learn a lot by reading this post and implementing a similar idea to this within their facilities. Although it is such a simple idea, it is also something that may go unnoticed. Sharing and teaching are defiantly a powerful tool to learn. By doing so, it allows you to know your “material” as well as forcing you to take continuous assessments where you can notice improvement strategies. It was a great point that Bruce, the welder, made; have employees take the tours allows for them to see the process and how they are contributing to the final product. They might also see something down the line that could be more efficient and better improved. An outside example that I can personally relate to is in school studying for an exam. I learn the best when helping another classmate study, by doing so I learn myself through teaching them the material. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Adam Beliveau

    Great post! There is a lot of insight in this article, and I believe there are points that companies can implement in their own locations. Teaching is an effective way to learn, and a concept that you know may be easy to understand, but your perspective can change if you are teaching that concept to others. These tours foster an environment of collaboration, and a continuous review of the processes in place. I also believe the employee tours are a great idea, as workers will now be able to see the full process and attach meaning to their work. For example, Bruce will be able to see how his work ties into the final product and the role he plays in the process. These tours are a great educational experience for not just students, but other companies who will gain experience that they might otherwise not have. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Taylor Crank

    A lot can be taken from this post. An important part that I took from this post is the concept of learning. In a lot of companies the different departments do not work with each other directly and don’t know exactly what goes on in the other departments. With company tours everyone can start to learn from each other and be on the same page to achieve the company goal. People will also be able to provide constructive criticism to each other and have a lot more feedback on their specific department. In order to be a lean thinker you have to be open to learn and take every success and failure as a learning opportunity. Awesome Post!

  4. Thomas Richardson

    This post was very interesting to read. I’m currently a student attending URI and I am a supply chain management major. In my business classes, we are about this type of lean thinking. This is a simple idea and because of that, I feel it can go unnoticed. Company tours could help regular staff and management operate more information sharing and transparency with less of a cost to time than cross-training. It is important to take every opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

  5. Alice

    When I work with leaders, we spend time learning to see together but in their own organization. They have strong habits of visiting other organizations for bench marking and copying best practices. Getting leaders to go see in their own organizations is a tough sell at first but when they start, it is always eye opening as when they go with the intention of learning, they are able to see all kinds of challenges that get in the way of their team’s work. Start with yourself.


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