Imagine a staff meeting at the top of a big company in which the CEO is looking around the table thinking the folks working for him don’t have what it takes to do his job, and the folks reporting to him are quietly thinking to themselves that they wouldn’t want to run the place if it were offered to them. It gets even worse when those direct reports go back to their silos and have an even dimmer view of the people reporting to them. Nobody is interested in investing in training to correct the situation, and the potential targets of any such training don’t have the ambition to do anything with the training even if it were offered.

Life sure is easy if problems are simply the result of someone’s stupidity, their apathy, some other fundamental character flaw. Blame them – threaten them with dire consequences if they let their inherent shortcomings impact the otherwise perfection of our business – problem solved. If it is true that the problem is just the result of someone screwing things up, then we don’t have to do much of anything. Assign blame and walk away.

In Toyota Kata Mike Rother gets into the detail as to exactly who initiates and implements process improvements at Toyota. The answer is that production operators do a lot of the small stuff in their immediate area, but mostly it is team leaders, production management and manufacturing engineers.

Most important is who does not initiate and drive improvements. It is not hot shot experts from headquarters who drop in from the blue; universal experts in everything with black belts and MBA’s. The people making the improvements in processes are the ones working deeply in the processes every day.

Rolling into the last week before the Lean Accounting Summit it seems appropriate to visit to see what the financial folks are thinking about these days and as usual the answer is … not much. The gulf between the solid, growing minority of financial leaders who really get lean and the majority who spend their careers polishing that which they learned at accounting school and have had nary a trace of an original thought since is as vast as ever.

A little talked about buy powerful aspect of the Toyota Production System is the oobeya – defined in Wikipedia as “great room” or “war room“. Used primarily (but not exclusively) for the year and a half to two year-long product development effort, it is creating a cross functional group that works in a room wallpapered with visual tracking and controls. Wrote Jeff Liker in The Toyota Way, “Toyota has found that the oobeya team system enables fast and accurate decision-making, improves communication, maintains alignment, speeds information gathering, and creates an important sense of team integration.”

Here is a chart in this morning’s Wall Street Journal that lays out GM’s long steady slide to irrelevance rather starkly. You can see it here.