The Case Of The Long Blue Nails: 5 Lessons Relearned

Several months ago, we were immersed in an experience building circuit boards. The circuit board exercise required teamwork, organization, quality control, and speed as part of a competition at a week-long lean management seminar.

Our team was selected by the seminar instructor and after that we were largely on our own in organizing our responses to the task of delivering as many defect-free circuit boards as possible, given the parameters of the exercise.

We came in last place.

During our first circuit board “run” our group self-selected various production roles (aka chaos). One woman decided she wanted to perform the most precise tasks, despite long blue fingernails that interfered with her ability to deliver quality and quantity in a timely manner. And we all let her continue in her role through three “runs,” though duly noting the issue in the post mortem (“It was only a learning experience” and “we didn’t want to hurt your feeling because you were trying.”) Sound familiar?

Some lessons relearned:

  • Successful teams stay focused on the higher purpose of their organization and they help everyone else do the same.
  • Effective leaders and teams realize it’s not personal. The issue was not the long blue nails, but our performance. Taking it personally is an ego trip.
  • Task-related honesty among team members is essential for interdependence and accomplishment. There were multiple choices available that included trimming the nails or finding another productive role for her. She could have also opted out, which was never openly considered during our entire day together.
  • Competent teams bring concerns to the surface for everyone to see. Preceding honesty is helping everyone to recognize what is right in front of them.
  • Effective organizations rely on the strength of relationships among team members.

Morning Star, the innovative producer of tomato products, preaches the following – organizations are abstractions and the only things that are real are the individuals and the relationships they form. In essence, it’s about your individual mission and your willingness to support the missions of your colleagues.