How the LEGO Group Built a Global Learning Organization Using TWI

Patrick Graupp, the foremost thought leader on the topic of Training Within Industry (TWI), has authored an important new book titled Building a Global Learning Organization: Using TWI to Succeed with Strategic Workforce Expansion in the LEGO Group. He wrote the book with two coauthors, Gitte Jakobsen and John Vellema, both employed by the the LEGO Group. The book completely outlines the actual organizational and planning models used by the LEGO Group to build a true Global Learning Organization.

I recently met with Patrick at the 2014 TWI Summit in Nashville and asked him: Why should a multinational company develop a Training Within Industry (TWI) program? What makes LEGO’s unique? Here is his complete reply:

Companies struggling to achieve and sustain gains from their Lean programs have come to realize the vital role Standardized Work plays here and just how difficult it is to achieve. It takes tremendous amounts of skill and effort to get literally everyone in an organization performing tasks in the same way. When this vision of consistent processes and performance expands to include facilities in different countries, with varying languages and cultures, the complexity magnifies exponentially. However, as the LEGO Group recognized when they began to rapidly expand their worldwide production, children don’t care whether their LEGO pieces are made in Denmark, Hungary, Mexico or China, but they have to all fit together perfectly and this requires stable quality across all production sites.

What the TWI programs, especially the Job Instruction element, give to this multinational effort is a “common language” around which leaders and operators can communicate effectively. By creating a simple but clear structure for “breaking down” a job into its essential elements, the What and the How and the Why, and then providing an effective “4-Step Method” by which any person can be trained in that job, TWI has allowed any LEGO associate regardless of where they live or what language they speak to learn the job identically to any of his or her counterparts, even in facilities in separate countries. While employees are being trained in their various native tongues, of course, the content and methodology of the training is consistent following the TWI method.

What is truly unique and special about the LEGO Group is that in implementing their global training system they made the conscious decision to regard equally all LEGO employees around the globe thus abandoning the old culture of “headquarters knows best.” This was no easy task. But it embodied the Lean philosophy of Respect for People in the most fundamental way -- across borders and cultures. As one top executive is quoted in the book expressing this new approach: “Any employee of the LEGO supply chain should be able to move from any factory to any other factory and notice nothing else but the language and the local temperature.”

In my own personal experience teaching the TWI courses around the world, everyone understands and agrees with the principles embodied in the TWI methods. In other words, they transcend differences in cultures and attitudes and represent what is fundamental to people from any society. With these foundations in place, TWI skills allow leaders in any country to effectively lead people by building strong relations that lead to good results. When a multinational company attempts to implement their own vision of leadership and business overseas, they would be wise to bring these methods with them. 

What do you think of Patrick's reply? Has your organization instituted any type of TWI program?