One of the best ways to understand how work gets done, solve problems, or streamline a process is to observe how the work is being done. The easiest way to do this is to setup a shadowing experience. A shadowing experience is when one person from an outside department follows a different professional around for the day to see what they do on a daily basis and how their team operates. This is the ultimate “gemba” walk.

I suggest we take this to an entirely new level. Why not have everyone on your team, your department, your institution setup a shadow walk with another team that they interact with on a monthly basis? Setup “Shadow Week” with your team and let each person learn first-hand how the other teams in the office get work done.

  1. Make the content meaningful. To make the experience more meaningful for both parties, consider framing the shadow over a shared experience. For example, is there one process that every team ‘touches’ in some way? Does a certain type of proposal cross over all the teams? Or, follow the ‘hand off’ processes across the institution–where does that form go after you fill it out? Find out and arrange to shadow the team who takes over after you’ve submitted your part. An easier way to think of it is to ‘follow the thread’ throughout the institution and find out how everything works once it leaves your office. You might find some surprising ways to streamline the process for everyone.
  2. Match person-to-person across teams. It helps to get have a leader who knows everyone involved to match personalities, as well as diverse teams. Try to mix and match as much as possible. For example, don’t have everyone in Team A meet only with Team B — have a few people meet with Teams C, D, and E as well, and then share their experiences at the end of the day.
  3. Spread out the Shadows and keep it realistic. Don’t try to have everyone shadowing all at the same time or on the same day–you will lose the realistic experience of what it means to work in the office. You want the shadowee to truly understand what it’s like in that office on a daily basis. Their experience may be skewed if the office has been turned upside down by constant visitors.
  4. Start the week with a poster session. Consider having a poster session for the administrative offices, and invite your PIs too! Have each team create a poster that explains what that teams does, the people in their team, and the current initiatives they are working on. It could be a great way to start introductions and your Shadow Week event.
  5. End the week with an Innovation Bash! Consider having a closing event that shares testimonials from the week, funny pictures from shadowing experiences, and even (anonymous) ideas on how processes could be streamlined and improved!