This post is by Bryan Geary of OPF. "3 Ways to Build Teamwork in Manufacturing Staff" was originally posted at businesszenblog.com. You can connect with him on Twitter as well. The manufacturing environment involves two critical cultures of the workforce.  One group spends their time in the plant managing the floor operations and the other in the office managing accounting, sales, marketing and so forth. At times these groups can appear from Mars and Venus. However, they represent the overall company culture – disjointed or united.

Often times the plant workforce is labeled as the manual unskilled laborers who require constant supervision to “stay busy.” But today the manual workforce has been replaced in all areas possible to reduce labor cost, improve efficiency, and increase outputs. Complex control systems, lean manufacturing, and six sigma are prominent on the plant floors. Digital and robotic factories can be found all across our great country. These advancements demand that managers and supervisors be much more than overseers or babysitters. Progressive and constant training along with hiring experienced and educated members are a must in the modern manufacturing operation. Are the smartest guys in the room only sitting in front office? Not in today’s manufacturing culture. There should be a balance of education and application in both areas.

So, will hiring the most educated work force solve all the culture clashes? Ken Iverson is known as a business maverick and has an astonishing track record of success that includes building Nucor from ground zero to an empire. In the epilogue of Mr. Iverson’s book “ Plain Talk: Lessons from a Business Maverick,” he talks about the possible cure for the common MBA. He points out his learning curve of forming teams made up of MBAs hired out of the top business schools. “They’ve come to us, degree in hand, and ready to conquer the world. We soon found out they couldn’t conquer the basics of managing a department.” Leadership will always remain the most critical educators for the operation. Some of these will be found in the office and some on the plant floor.

The plant culture is fueled by productivity. Time is money. How many pieces per hour did we run. How much downtime was involved. How much overtime was required, and so on. The overall efficiency on the plant floor is a key metric to unit cost. Plant leadership must have an engaged since of urgency to meet production demands and order requirements. Quick decisions are required that impact quality, safety, and output. It requires years of experience for the majority of these quick decisions to yield positive results.

Does office culture not require the same sense of urgency? Sure it does. The plant team often struggles with this as it seems when they go to the front office people are talking, laughing, in meetings, and so on and little is getting done. The office group is under constant deadlines to deliver cost data, budget reports, sale figures, forecast, dealing with complaints, and ultimately forming the strategy for several paths forward. Again quick decisions are required that impact the overall wellness of the organization. And yet again – same as the plant team – this requires years experience to make the majority of these decisions benefit the company.

Bridging the gap between the two cultures in the manufacturing plant is a must so that all are pulling the rope in the same direction. Here are some tips from over 20 yrs of working in both environments.

  1. Merge: Constantly create teams that intertwine the two cultures by having members from both groups. This can be painful at times, but stick to your guns so that all involved develop an understanding of their roles. You will find most have the same objective of improving the company’s performance while improving their status in the work place.
  2. Engage: Allow your office team to get out on the plant floor to meet, greet, and develop a good understanding of the overall process flow. The same is needed for the plant team to understand what all is required from the office group. Walk crews through the office explaining the different groups and their functions.
  3. Respect: At times the operator cleaning the pits out has just as vital a role as the President of the company. If this operator does not complete the task at hand in a timely, accurate, and safe manner, the plant will suffer. Show respect to all on your team. Teach your entire team that respect is the cornerstone of your business.

Creating unity between the plant and office will speak volumes about the overall culture of the organization.

 

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