By: John McNeil
Mike Rother wrote a book about Toyota and Lean in 2009. Toyota Kata describes the choreographed patterns of movements that comprise Toyota’s rigorous approaches to their work. Kata (or “form”) are used in many traditional Japanese arts such as theater (kabuki is an example) and schools of tea ceremony (chado), but are most commonly known for their presence in the martial arts.
The concept of good form is not of course alien to American culture. We practice band in high school with choreographed patterns of movement. We practice singing in barbershop quartets, we drill as cadets, we play hockey, we send our kids to ballet for them to learn the merits of synchronized, stylized movements. We do it at work too – chefs, UPS drivers, lumberjacks and flyfishermen know that great function comes from great form. What we seldom do is draw analogies from this progressive excellence to our own work. The elements of synchronization are too often absent from our work even though we may pursue a career for 30 years and never attain the harmony that a jazz band achieves after a couple hundred hours of practicing.
Part of the problem is that we don’t know if we are working on a hockey rink or a ballet stage. Or worse, we have a different view than our coworkers. Healthcare is a sprawling enterprise and what it needs right now is ballet. For sure there is always a need for a breakaway down the ice, a serendipitous pass to a place where our star forward is going to be. But more often in hospitals and clinics we need the predictability of ballet.
Like a marching band rounding 15 corners to magically align, like a barbershop quartet that hits the crescendo on the nose, like the UPS driver who pulls up to the curb and delivers the birthday present just in time. We need the medical record, the satisfied patient and the friendly volunteer to converge at the end of a perfectly synchronized balletic visit. And we can do it, but we have to believe it first.