RL Wolfe Self Directed teams
RL Wolfe Self Directed teams
John Amasi has established self-directed teams [SDT] at his Corpus Christi plant to allow for the betterment of the product and allow for employee decision making. The use of SDT’s has been used throughout different industries with great success. John hoped to use this same approach in his plastic pipe manufacturing plant, while hoping to achieve the same results as the other industries. Problems with the self-directed teams begin to arise and John, along with plant manager Jay Winslow, knew that things needed to change. What had occurred in the Corpus Christi plant was too much empowerment for the employee. Employees were allowed to make decisions on how to improve the process and product, but they were also allowed to make decisions on such things as when to work, how much overtime to work, vacation days, and how much they would be paid. Hard line boundaries had to be drawn and employees had to follow these rules. If John didn’t do something to help him reach his goal of 95% design capacity, then the employees would continue to change things to benefit themselves while hurting the company; leading to a sense of entitlement from the employee (Collins and Garvin, 2009). Giving employees a right to decide how is improve floor level processes is great for the company, but allowing them to make decisions related to personal issues such as time off and pay only hurts the company. Boundaries are the key to improved success at the plant and must be implemented and accepted by both the employees and management for them to be effective.
Under RL Wolfe, a $350 million dollar plastic pipe manufacturing company, John Amasi, director of Production and Engineering, wanted to implement self-directed teams [SDT] at his Corpus Christi plant. The Corpus Christi plant was purchased from Moon Plastics in 2003, retooled, and back online in 2004 with a design capacity of 2,250 tons of polyethylene pipe per year. With three plants throughout the United States, Amasi wanted to take a different approach toward employee involvement and increase the plants design capacity to 95%. Plants located in Austin, TX and Columbus, OH had a current design capacity of 65%-70%. From current reports throughout different industries—food and beverage, consumer goods—Amasi was able to discover that there was a 30% to 40% improvement rate in production and quality from self-directed run units. The Corpus Christi plant is a 300,000 square-foot facility that runs 4 extrusion lines, 24 hours a day, over 3 shifts. Each shift consists of 27 workers who have various tasks, such as bringing raw material to the hoppers, running lines, and transporting pipe away from the finishing lines (Collins and Garvin, 2009). Unionized workers were employed in both the Austin and Columbus plants, while the Corpus Christi plant remained un-unionized. John Amasi lured in Jay Winslow from Wolfe’s top competitor to become plant manager at Corpus Christi. Through the implementation of SDT’s both men hoped to see a workforce who would continuously improve processes while meeting the goal of 95% design capacity. Through the establishment of job definitions, hiring, team setup and responsibilities, and the role of the coordinator, SDT’s began to take shape and in 2007, the Corpus Christi plant began to see the success and disappointments the teams had generated (Collins and Garvin, 2009).
In his book Stewardship, Peter Block states, “At the heart of entitlement is the belief that the employee needs are more important than the business (Prosser, 2005, p.5). The case study, RL Wolfe: Implementing Self-Directed Teams, displays various issues that arise from self-directed teams. One major issue that stands out is the lack of boundaries given to the employees at the Corpus Christi plant. A lack of boundaries can over time lead an individual to feel a sense of entitlement. As Collins and Garvin (2009) point out in the case study one employee complains that, “when we were first hired, it was assumed that for all decisions made the majority ruled (p.6)”. Employees at the plant wanted control over the amount of overtime they had and when they would work that overtime. Without boundaries and structure, employees began to feel a sense of entitlement. The relationship between management and the employee depletes and overtime the boundary among management and the employee shifts, leading to different views on where the line should be drawn on certain decisions (Collins and Garvin, 2009). In 2004, Jay Winslow expected teams to take over control of their day to day activities such as setting up break times policies, fixing equipment on the line, and making decisions that would have a positive effect on the end product. Where he failed in this sense was not drawing any hard boundary lines on the decisions teams could make as they matured (Collins and Garvin, 2009). This in turn allowed for different views from management and the employee on when and how much they should work, the amount of pay they received, vacation and holiday time, among other entitlements that should be the decision of management with employee input. The above mentioned should not rest on the final decision of the employee, which in turn can lead to an employee doing less work for more pay and time off; relating back to a sense of entitlement.
Employee involvement in decision making is important along with employees being allowed to make certain decision on their own within the work environment. “When employees know what the vision of the company is and how they contribute to the fulfillment of that vision, they can make promises to accomplish those things that will make a difference to the bottom line (p.5)” concludes Daniel Prosser (2005). When employees know and understand the vision and boundaries of a company, they in return can establish measures to meet the goals of the company. Winslow and Amasi wanted a 95% design capacity but in 2007 the company was only operating at an 80% to 82% design capacity (Collins and Garvin, 2009). If the employee knows the vision of the company, which includes built in boundaries, than the employee can establish self goals for themselves and the team, still meeting the intent of SDT’s. The boundaries should include what is needed from the employee, tools for the employee to accomplish the task, and a certain level of empowerment from management to accomplish these goals. Addressing the issue of boundaries will allow for better understanding by the employee on their role to the company and the bottom line. With known boundaries comes better organizational structure. As John Nirenberg states, “…each person is held accountable to their responsibilities and the focus of effort is on accomplishing a specific outcome. The team leader is concerned with achieving the objective but is also accountable to the team as well as the organization (p.37).” Structure must be established and employees must understand their boundaries and be held accountable, but at the same time know their responsibilities to accomplishing the specific outcome of an objective.
Employers should not concern themselves with being friends with their employees; rather they should establish boundaries for a healthy work environment. If an employer does focus on establishing employees as friends, a dysfunctional workplace can ensue and roles within that work place can be ill defined (Jaurequi, 2013). Winslow had to discharge several employees at the Corpus Christi plant due to many factors such as unwillingness to participate in team meetings or taking the concept of employee empowerment too far (Collins and Garvin, 2009). Winslow explained to his employees that, “empowerment does not mean autonomy or total freedom to do what you want. The source of empowerment comes from the willingness to take on responsibility—responsibility to the team and to the plant as a whole (Collins and Garvin, 2009, p.5). Boundaries within the Corpus Christi plant must be established and enforced to allow for employees to understand the vision of the company. In doing so the employee now has the tools needed to make informed decisions and there is a hard line boundary as to what they can and cannot do. Employees should be allowed to change processes to improve product quality and ergonomics on the floor, but should not be allowed to dictate vacation days, over time, pay rates, and holidays. Empowerment for an employee allows for a sense of belonging, but too much empowerment allows for a sense of control and with too much control comes entitlement. Winslow and Amasi must establish hard line boundaries, while tying them into the 95% design capacity vision for the company. Effective boundaries will allow for better understanding of the self-directed teams by employees, while allowing for higher management to achieve their end results; a higher bottom line.
Strong, defined boundaries leads to an employee base that knows their roles along with the vision of the company. John Nirenberg reveals, “If personal transformation is to lead to organizational transformation…we must align our new selves with a new form (p.31)”. If change is to happen at the Corpus Christi plant than it first must come from management. With the development to the Self-directed teams [SDT], the employee has been allowed to make numerous decisions involving pay, work hours, and the development of the product. Personal transformation must begin with boundaries. These boundaries must be defined and followed. STD’s can be a great resource with just a small amount of oversight. Employees know the product; they know the processes involved with making the product. Management must keep this in mind and allow for the employees to make decisions based on the processes involved on the floor. However, employees should be able to provide insight into issues such as pay, hours worked, vacation time, ect. What they must not be allowed to do is determine these boundaries. These boundaries should be set by management after insight from the employee base has been taken. This allows for the top down, down up, and all across communication model to be effective while supporting hard line boundaries established by the company. Employees at Corpus Christi must align to the new boundaries in order for the SDT’s to be truly effective. If the employees align to the new form then they can begin to create a new self that will allow for better growth of both the company and themselves; allowing for the overall goal of 95% design capacity to become a reality.