LEAN Work Cell
in claims services
the power of cooperation
Read time: 8 minutes
LEAN work cell in claims services: the power of cooperation
Intensive cooperation improves productivity
An important aspect of our approach is the cooperation between and within teams. All Van Ameyde’s claims handlers are taught to cooperate intensively. Earlier this year we started this approach at Van Ameyde Netherlands. Within two weeks we measured a considerable increase in productivity. Within five weeks we achieved the highest level of productivity ever and after three months any remaining backlogs were reduced to an absolute minimum, enabling us to respond to all questions within 24 hours.
Resembling a small company
We view the teams as small companies within a company. The team is entirely responsible for servicing our clients’ policyholders (‘our’ customers). From start to finish. Each team has its own goals for response times and customer satisfaction. But also subjects like forecasting. Will we be able to service our customers in three months?
The team as a whole is responsible. It’s no longer every man for himself. Team members who have finished their allocated tasks assist colleagues who happen to have more time-consuming customer contacts that day. Does a colleague have difficulty with something? No problem. Other team members immediately step in to provide coaching or explanation, ensuring that all are comfortable with providing excellent service to our customers.
Logical environment versus directing
The team manager plays a pivotal role in the cooperation. Rather than directing, the manager must ensure that the teams are enabled to service customers in a logical environment. Clarity and simplicity are crucial and are achieved through frameworks, processes and visualising information.
Visualising frameworks, targets and progress helps us create an environment in which everything is transparent. It shows where assistance is needed and whether we are in control. Within seconds you have insight in the teams’ progress of their targets for the day and week. As a Lean coach I think this is absolutely amazing.
Freedom within a framework
In addition to creating a logical environment, the team manager must stimulate cooperation and ownership. We no longer tell people what to do: they decide for themselves. Problems are no longer solved by management, but by team members themselves. This requires very clear frameworks and targets, from which we must not deviate. The team members then set to work. Suffice to say that we must help team members to obtain the skills needed to achieve those targets. We do not leave them to fend for themselves. This approach requires training and intensive coaching, changing the team manager’s role to trainer | coach.
Cooperation: a growth process
For some teams the step towards intensive cooperation is easy; other teams need more time. We have noticed that in general teams grow to improved cooperation and more autonomy in phases. This is a continuous process, which restarts now and then as a result of a change in membership.
It is the team manager’s role to support this growth and intervene in case of a conflict within the team. More and more brainwork is transferred to the team. The team proposes an approach or working agreements; the manager approves the realisation. Ultimately we aim for ever increasing problem-solving skills within the team.
This isn’t easy. Team-managers are, therefore, coached themselves to master this new way of managing, which must suit the person. There’s no room for acting the boss. Developing your team and honouring the people who service our customers is hard work.
What do we expect from our staff?
This way of working requires a specific attitude from our staff. Most importantly:
Close cooperation is crucial. Helping each other with work, being receptive to new ideas and teaching each other. Treating each other with respect is vital to allow people to open up, to admit to finding things hard or being afraid to make mistakes.
Everyone must continue to develop their hard and soft skills. We strive for stable teams, but at least once a year a colleague moves on to another team or participates in a project. We distinguish between learning new skills and improving existing skills.
To improve our working methods and solve problems, we must thoroughly understand the working methods and problems. This is no longer the task of the manager alone. Even though this takes time, we have no choice as we won’t be able to improve.
Responsibility means ownership. We ask for creativity and cooperation to help our customers as best we can, even in case of adversity. As team members strongly feel their responsibility for the team’s results, we see teams make huge efforts.
All geared to supporting teams
Providing our services through multiple smaller teams, i.e. smaller companies, means the organisation becomes less complex. Everything else must support the teams, starting with the management layers. Support departments are geared to assist the operations with knowledge, simple processes and a platform. As far as possible, realisation is transferred to the teams – close to where the services are provided.
As a result, tasks related to support the services are also carried out within the teams. Training and coaching is the most important. All teams have one or more senior colleagues who are concerned with improving people’s skills.
Combining Lean Work Cell with Basic Stability
The working method that I have described is based on the Lean Workcell concept. I have implemented this concept in multiple organisations. However, the results achieved in claims management seem to indicate a perfect match. I do believe this is attributable to the combination of the concepts Lean Work Cell and Basic Stability. Basic Stability means striving for a stable operation to create the foundation based on which services can be improved. In my next article I will elaborate on this.
 By which I do not refer to Tuckman’s phases, but phases in cooperation:
- from sharing
- to assisting
- to agreeing
- to learning from each other
- to solving problems together
About the author
Barry Pappot is Manager Continuous Improvement at Van Ameyde. Barry coaches managers in the area of Lean and is specialised in Lean within service environments. He is a Certified Champion in LEAN (CChL) at IIBLC®. For more information on Lean and Teamwork, please contact Barry on LinkedIn.