Circle of Colleagues

You’ve just been promoted to Executive Director of Operations in your company. Now, instead of managing one plant, you are responsible for eight plants. The VP has made it clear he expects a lot from you, including ensuring all the plants are performing at the same level of competence and maturity. Each plant is unique in its modes of operations, product lines, and lean implementations. With a confident smile on your face, you assure him that you understand the challenge as you exit his office.  

However…once the door is closed, the smile immediately leaves your face. You mentally groan. 

The company has a history of allowing its facilities to run as independent, stand-alone operations. For most of your tenure at the company, there has been an unwritten rule that this is the only possible operational model due to their locations and diversity in product portfolios. Efforts to drive common practices and procedures from HQ had not been well-received or met with limited success in the past.  

But now what? The challenge has been made in your new position, and you accepted. What were alternatives to this long-standing approach?  

Amidst the congratulations from the rest of the staff, the day passes quickly. There is little time to reflect on the immensity of the task ahead of you, much less on any course of action. Because it is the weekend, you grab your laptop and head for home to start developing a plan.  It’s certain the boss will be looking for something concrete before the end of the following week. 

On Sunday night, the house is quiet after a jam-packed weekend. Your briefcase and laptop remain exactly where you placed them when you arrived home on Friday. Sitting quietly as the sun goes down, a statement floats through your mind:   

“None of us is as smart as all of us….”  

Huh? Where did that come from?  

You retrieve your laptop and look up the statement. Oh, yeah, Kenneth H. Blanchard, author of The One-Minute Manager. Interesting…closing your laptop you sit in reflection when the statement floats back through your mind. How can you harness the thoughts and ideas of all the plants to achieve the goal?   

An idea starts to form as you mull the implications of that question. What if you took the specific functional leader from each plant (e.g., Supply Chain Manager, Indirect Materials Manager, Scheduling Manager, etc.) to form work groups focused on “becoming common” in their respective department using the best-of-the-best procedures and processes?! 

This exact process and structure to drive common business practices has been very successfully employed in one of the companies where I had worked. The initiative was called “Circles of Colleagues.” Each functional area of the plant had one Circle or several Circles depending on the sub-functions. For example, Supply Chain had Circles for their managers, indirect materials, material flow, material control, etc.    

These Circles met and reported out on a regular basis. Part of their charter was to systematically implement common processes and procedures throughout all the plants. Lean Manufacturing process rollouts were made much easier and implemented much more quickly by allowing the plant personnel to review each plant’s process or procedure, compare it to the Lean standard, and determine who had the “best” process.   

The Circles then identified any roadblocks to implementation and discussed how to break them.  In the rare instance when a common process or procedure could not be implemented in a specific plant, a deviation process was created. These requests were forwarded to the Executive Director for approval. After a few denials and some tough conversations with the plant to re-review their inability to be common, those requests for deviation became extremely rare.   

The Circles of Colleagues for plant departmental managers met each month in a different plant, instituting the “go see” process. At these meetings, functional Circles would report on their activities, generally on the plant floor, where they demonstrated their “before” and “after” implementation.   

The key to the success of the Circles was the support of the VP of Manufacturing and Executive Directors. To promote the idea of “common,” presentations made to these executives during plant reviews were also in a standardized format. Any change the executives made to that format during a plant review was the responsibility of that plant to document the change and ensure the downstream plants scheduled for visits understood the change. It only took a couple of faux pas before this communication process became solid and reliable. 

Did the Circles of Colleagues work? They did! This division of the company became very well known, not only for their common processes, but also for their discipline in following the processes.   

Truly, none of us were as smart as all of us! 


Interested in developing your own Circles of Colleagues?  Let the experienced team at HVMC help you develop a plan to leverage the capabilities and best practices found in your own plants, and to apply global perspectives that improve them! Email us at 



Did you enjoy this blog? Search our blog library for other topics of interest: