Is speaking the same language a barrier to Go-Look-See? (#32)

Today's blog: The benefits of not sharing a mother tongue.

This edition of the leansempai blog is shorter than usual for word-related reasons that’ll become obvious. Words are in my mind because recently I spent time, separately, with native Japanese & Catalan speakers whose English, whilst stronger than my attempts at their languages, was basic.

Last week, 50 miles west of Barcelona I was willingly ‘Job Instructed’ in Catalan, a language I don’t understand. Luckily, my past globetrotting somehow allowed me to broadly follow the essence of what was being said whilst freeing me to focus on what I was being shown. A very liberating process that reminded me of a Mexican job a few years ago where, in the space of 3 weeks, I worked with a team to re-layout a sprawling production cell.

Six of that Saltillo-based Mexican team spoke no English and the seventh, who spoke excellent English, was forever called away to meetings. Once again, we got by just fine through me learning the Spanish words for ‘safety’, ‘quality’, ‘cost’, ‘delivery’, load’, ‘unload’, ‘machine’, ‘walk’ and ‘cycle time’ & perhaps 2 or 3 others. This basic common ground, enlivened by some inspired hand-puppetry on both sides plus a flip-chart, served us perfectly.

In fact, I’d argue that stripping the words away removes a barrier to go-look-see by making a shopfloor visit a necessity to understand the issue at hand. It also removes our default desire to discuss something to its theoretical conclusion in abstract terms – rather than just going to look, point and poke at it.

On the subject of which, I don’t ever recall being accused of struggling to find enough words to say. This I view as a character flaw rather than a positive thing. My bias nowadays is for action supported by words rather than the other way around. After the last couple of weeks I’m going to experiment with my coaching clients to try occasional mute periods as well. 


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