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  • Writer's pictureIntent Group

Lean Construction - The Leaders Obligation

As a Director of Lean Construction Australia New Zealand (LCANZ), and the Chair of the NZ LCANZ committee, Stephanie Pretorius uses her role to champion the importance of improving productivity in NZ construction through continuous improvement.

In this latest article, Stephanie highlights the significance of Continuous improvement in supporting better mental health, by reducing the stress, conflict and frustrations that frequently affects teams delivering in an often urgent and reactive environment.


Productivity, Continuous Improvement & Mental Health in Construction – it’s all related

Stephanie Pretorius - Director of Lean Construction Australia New Zealand (LCANZ) and Managing Principal with Argon and Co.

Continuous improvement, as an integral component of productivity improvement, not only contributes to commercial success but also contributes to positive mental health within an organisation.

Poor mental health is a huge problem in Construction. And few industries are as far behind on productivity and continuous improvement as Construction*. Is this just coincidence or is there a relationship between productivity, continuous improvement and mental health?

Manufacturing worked it out long ago that there is more pain caused by broken processes, than in taking the time to improve processes and develop the skills of their people to handle problems and uncertainty. They know that investing in problem solving skills and working on processes is the path to better productivity that also values staff by reducing the effects of stress or ‘muri’*.

Employees turn up to work ‘day in-day out’ within the culture and environment that has been created for them. Their work environment is as unique as a fingerprint - and the organisations leadership creates that fingerprint. Teams work within a set of processes, systems, structures, and with the tools provided by the organisation. Each day a team experiences behaviours, norms, and communications which collectively create the internal climate. Leaders are responsible for the internal climate they create and when their people experience firefighting, frustration, conflict, and recurring problems daily it’s likely to be an accepted part of the current culture. It’s just how it is. It’s like a coach throwing their star team into a pressure cooker every day and wondering why they can’t perform.

Broken processes in a business are a huge constraint on productivity, and extremely common as few businesses have the time, vision or capacity to step back and improve them. Processes are how the work of a business gets done every day, and by their nature recur repeatedly – whether per project, per day, or other frequency. Using a sports analogy, broken processes are akin to a rugby team trying to win a game with each player carrying broken bones. Every movement hurts. Exactly like triggering a process and the result being stress and frustration, waste and rework. It’s painful.

Construction leaders have an obligation to lighten the burden of work in an already pressure driven environment. A team should be able to do their work efficiently every day, be productive, feel valued for the contribution they made, and go home at the end of the day safe and stress free. Imagine what a difference it would make if your people went to work every day and things went like clockwork. No stress. No firefighting. And they had the skills and ability to tackle any problem or situation with confidence.

Investing in productivity is an investment in the mental health of your people, and in the performance results you seek.

Ultimately developing an effective continuous improvement capability is good for your team and good for your bottom line. Work on the internal climate – get to work on the processes, systems and improvement skills within your organisation – and see your performance and culture change.

The call is out to leadership to pick up the mantle and create a culture that fosters both mental health and performance.

You may also be interested in this related article on the Lean Construction Blog

Reach out to MATES for support with mental health in Construction

*Productivity reference - page 7

*Muri is a Japanese term meaning “overburden or unreasonable”. It is one of the three types of waste (Muda, Mura, Muri) and a key concept in the Toyota Production System. In other words, you create Muri whenever you put your team under stress by demanding unreasonable or unnecessary work that exceeds their capacity.

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