TRAVERSE CITY — Small groups can be a big way to help any size company grow.

A duo from Britten showed ways that Continuous Improvement (CI) teams can change companies from within at the three-day Michigan Lean Consortium annual conference, which concluded Friday in Traverse City.

Britten Quality Manager Dan Rinehart and Training Manager Julie Potvin led one of the Active Learning Sessions on Thursday at the conference. Before breaking the 35 workshop participants into four teams, the session began with a series of questions that Rinehart admitted were a little weird.

  • If a dog wore pants, how would he wear them?
  • Is a cupcake nothing but a muffin with frosting on it?
  • Is a hamburger a sandwich?
  • Is a hot dog a sandwich?

There was a purpose to the questions: Improving dialogue within the employee teams.

“We get everyone engaged, everyone talking and everyone participating,” Rinehart said. “This simple engagement has done wonders for us with our CI teams.”

Rinehart said the different CI teams meet weekly to tackle issues at the company.

“These are long-term improvement teams,” he said.

For the active learning session at The Hagerty Center on Thursday, attendees split into four teams to tackle problems associated with a fictional beverage company: defective products reaching customers, lead times that are too long, no recycling program in place for scrap, and the need for new evacuation plans.

The four teams completed a project charter to form a vision on the scope, metrics and parameters of the project. The project charter led to creation of an A3 report, which provide the current status of the project. These reports were given to the steering committee of the fictional company.

At Britten, Potvin said the project charters are reviewed within each CI team, which helps to drive employees to be agents of change at the company. She said some of the CI team members have gone through Lean training, but others have not.

Through shared Google Drives and using an A3 report as a living document, Britten employees help drive the ways to reduce waste and maintain productivity.

Rinehart said Britten selects its CI teams using the K.E.S.A.A. model: Knowledge, Experience, Skills, Attitude and Aptitude.

Rinehart said many of the small teams often have a 20/60/20 makeup. He said 20 percent of the team are people already are on board with the concept, while another 20 percent are “never going to be with you.” Rinehart said the largest group of people, the 60 percent, have a wait-and-see approach.

“Those are the people you concentrate on,” Rinehart said.

The overall focus of the Britten-led learning session was on smaller groups. The Michigan Lean Consortium’s annual conference continues to grow.

Betsy Williams, business development/training specialist with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, said the ninth annual conference this year attracted more than 160 attendees. She said the first event drew about 70.

The conference concluded on Friday with workplace tours of TentCraft and Munson Medical Center.

Williams said each of the annual conferences has been held in Traverse City. There doesn’t seem to be any movement to take it anywhere else.

“(It is because of) the relationship we have with (Northwestern Michigan College), obviously. Plus, our department is really involved with the Michigan lean Consortium,” Williams said. “It’s exciting. Throughout the state we have a lot of great Lean thinkers in our area.”

The thinkers at the Britten learning session voted 25-10 vote that a hamburger is indeed a sandwich. They voted 25-10 that a hot dog is not.