Applying the Toyota Production System to Community Building

A week ago I attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago.  The best session I attended was presented by the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) and the New York City Food Bank.  Initially skeptical about corporations coming in to nonprofits to tell them how to operate, I was blown away by how this partnership actually worked.  First of all, TSSC is actually a non-profit arm of Toyota whose mission is to share the Toyota Production System (TPS) model with nonprofits and community organizations.  What’s in it for Toyota?  They rotate Toyota staff members onto these projects to hone their skills in implementing the TPS.  The greatest part about this for the nonprofit is that the Toyota employees learn through teaching.  They train staff at the partner organization how to use the TPS, allowing for the greatest change to occur after they leave (the true hallmark of lasting change!)

Here’s a short clip about how TSSC is partnering with the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans to rebuild homes:

We heard directly from Daryl, a Director of Operations at the New York City Food Bank.  His arm was twisted by NYC Food Bank’s CEO.  Daryl was as skeptical as I was about accepting corporate advice on how to run a food bank.  What could a car company possibly tell him about serving hungry people?  Well, Toyota may know next to nothing about food preparation or human services, but in one week they were able to drastically reduce the wait time at the kitchen, so much so, that patrons no longer had to wait outside in the snow or sweltering heat.  The change was so dramatic that longtime patrons were convinced that the kitchen was closed because they could no longer spot the line from a block away.

Here’s a video about the New York City Food Bank that gives you an idea of some of the challenges they face:

One takeaway that stuck with me from this presentation was when Daryl talked about coming to terms with accepting help from the TSSC guys.  His staff actually said to him “Have a heart and look out for us”.  Basically, once they realized the TSSC guys could help, it was time to put egos aside and accept that there may be a better way of doing things that you never thought of.  This was huge, because it’s not enough for TSSC to have a better way of doing things.  In order to actually embrace lasting change, all of the key players have to be willing to embrace that change and recognize when doing things differently will enable them to make a bigger difference.


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