Dos and Don’ts of Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Posted on by CATALYSIS

It is the start of a new year, which for many people means setting resolutions or goals to work towards in the coming months. We often hear from healthcare leaders that they want to work on improving the culture within their team or their organization. According to the Shingo Model, the foundation of an improvement culture starts with two principles: “Respect Every Individual” and “Lead with Humility.”

These two principles are considered cultural enablers and the first place to start when changing culture. Here are some dos and don’ts to get you started:


  • Do Go to the Gemba – Going to gemba (where the work is being done) is a great way to show respect for your team. When you observe the work in your organization, you can gain a better understanding of what is happening which will enable you to empathize and in turn be more respectful to team members. The practice of observing the work will show your team that you are interested in what they do and want to learn from them.
  • Do Seek Input from Others – As a leader, when you seek input from others you are letting them know that you recognize that you do not have all the answers. Seeking input from others demonstrates that you respect their opinions and helps build trust.
  • Do Assume Best Intentions – Assuming that everyone has the best intentions helps to create a safe work environment. This means when a problem occurs you help your team answer the questions of “what” and “how” rather than focusing on the “who” and “why.” If team members understand that they will not be attacked for mistakes they are more likely to be open and honest when a problem occurs.
  • Do Listen with Intent to Understand – Truly listening to team members is integral in creating an environment where everyone feels respected. This means you must focus on what the speaker is saying and approach it with an open mind, rather than assuming you know what they are going to say and spending time thinking about your response.


  • Don’t Inject Your Opinion into Questions – It is important that you are mindful of how you ask questions. Make sure that you are not injecting your opinion into the questions. Questions that start with phrases like, “Wouldn’t it be better if…” or end with “Don’t you think?” are not really questions, instead they are tactics that people use to get others to agree with them. This is not a behavior that shows respect or humility.
  • Don’t Solve People’s Problems for Them – If you jump in and solve all of the problems that your team faces you might look like a hero. But the message that you send to your team when doing this is that you think you know best, or that you do not value their opinions. It is difficult to build a culture of continuous improvement if team members do not feel valued. It is better to trust others to make decisions whenever you can.
  • Don’t Rush to Blame – Blame can be extremely damaging to a team because it negates trust and makes team members feel disrespected and singled out. When a problem occurs, you must assume best intentions and focus on what caused the issue and what steps can be taken to ensure the process does not produce the defect in the future.
  • Don’t Let Safety be an Afterthought – A safe work environment means that team members feel safe from physical harm and are able to bring forward concerns or ideas without retribution. Make sure you have a process in place for your team to report incidents and bring up concerns or improvement ideas.

When team members feel safe and respected they can better focus on the important work of providing patient care. The principles of “Respect Every Individual” and “Lead with Humility” are critical in establishing organization culture.

We hope this advice helps you as you focus on building a culture of continuous improvement in your team or organization.


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