Catchball may sound like a game of throwing and catching a ball, and in Japan it is a game just as that. However, catchball is also a common business practice used in lean businesses during the strategy deployment phase of Hoshin Kanri or simply Hoshin Planning. Needless to say, it does not include the use of an actual ball. Instead, it is more of a figurative term used to describe the process of sharing thoughts, ideas, and comments regarding proposed business or process changes and improvements. Instead of tossing a ball from person to person, think of it more as tossing thoughts or ideas from person to person. Catchball is an active communication session where participates are urged to contribute in order to explore all possibilities and come up with diverse working solutions and ideas. During catchball questions are answered, strategies are explored, priorities are defined, and shared understandings are built.  Just as meetings can be formal or informal the same goes for catchball sessions. However, one difference between a meeting and a catchball session is that in catchball everyone should be contributing, while meetings are often led by a manager or similar ranked personnel while everyone else basically listens and takes notes.

How is Catchball Helpful in Hoshin Planning?

One of the top reasons that catchball is important is that it focuses on communication. In Hoshin Planning all employees are considered experts at their own jobs and treated that way even by members of top management. The objective with Hoshin Planning is to have all staff members focus on shared goals that involve everyone. Basically everyone works together and understands his or her contributions for helping to achieve the stated goals and objectives. Catchball is an essential component to the practice of Hoshin Planning in that it involves all employees whether they are from top management positions or just beginning in entry-level positions, everyone’s thoughts and opinions are treated fairly and considered when appropriate. By doing this, each member feels connected and responsible for the business goals set and takes ownership within his or her purpose.

Catchball is Not Necessarily Easy, but it is Effective

Catchball is not an easy process by any means; it is meant to be an exploration session and can go in many directions. The session should be led by a team leader or deployment leader.  The leader should trust that once the group has “played” catchball that the results will be beneficial. The following analogy may help. The team leader will define the trail in which the participants will walk (possible improvements and business objectives) and then let the team explore, question, and discuss the possibilities through catchball along the way. The team may wonder off the defined trail at some points, however, the trust needs to be there that they will indeed again find the trail and make it to the destination with solutions and a clearly defined consensus from all.

Like I mentioned earlier, the tactic of utilizing catchball is not easy and will not always be the cleanest process.  Nonetheless, it will allow for opinions and ideas from staff members at all different levels to be heard, and it will also help to build a sense of team and community related to possible business improvements.