Denkwerkstatt für Manager

Geschwill & Nieswandt

Working in production in self-responsible teams - is that possible?

Practical reports from companies that have set out on the road.... 

Frederic Laloux enthused in his book 'Reinventing Organizations` of FAVI, a foundry in France. The workers worked on their own responsibility without bosses. Then the 2020 news: The company is returning to a classic hierarchical way of working after 37 years due to a change in ownership. The owner wanted more structure and control again. Was this the end of self-responsible social romanticism in production? Were the reactionaries in the production management right after all, that production workers need a boss, otherwise the machines would stand still? 
In the case of FAVI, the elimination of ownership appears to have resulted in large staff and financial losses for the time being. 

 And what is the situation in Germany? 

In Germany, the masterful credo was set in stone: Self-responsibility in production is difficult. And thus the logical conclusion that it was not worth the effort to introduce this in production.  This article shows the opposite. For three years now, there has been an increase in the Denkwerkstatt für Manager the orders to support approaches to the FAVI model in production. And in fact, a small company has demonstrated how to do it.  

Heiler glass construction near Bruchsal has been working without bosses for 10 years. While the fluctuation rate was still 12 % annually in 2012, it has been zero for 4 years. The  Company prospers and employees can no longer imagine working any other way.  Stephan Heiler has documented the path of transformation with all its ups and downs. Above all, he has proven that it can work.

 Today, it is very difficult to attract young people to production jobs. Self-organization in companies is a differentiator there. We, the Denkwerkstatt für ManagerWe are the No. 1 in Germany for culture change in companies. Some of our customers have joined us on the path to breaking down barriers to thinking and trusting people in production to do more. We report below from four current projects. 

 Octahedron workshops in camp 

 We have been working on a culture change project in a retail company for 6 months. Internal coaches are conducting 2-hour workshops with teams there at the grassroots level to improve the culture. The company employs 600 people in total. Of those, 60 people are in a warehouse. In an upstream culture survey, managers didn't believe anything would come out of workshops with warehouse employees. The people all had a migration background, spoke poor German and had a rather low level of education. The coaches tried it anyway. They presented the teams, including managers, with a Octahedron presented. It included eight topics that a team could improve, such as dealing with mistakes or conflicts, improving communication, etc. The managers were surprised. People work out very practical solutions for their workplaces in the first topic. 

When the coaches left the workshop, they asked the teams to also work on the other 7 topics by 3 months from now. The coaches were also surprised. After only three weeks, finished plans were available on how to work in the teams. A follow-up survey showed that the cultural measures were actually implemented by the teams and filled with life. They were faster than any other team in the company! 

It's possible: Production employees organize themselves. 

 The Denkwerkstatt worked for a company that is one of the 200 hidden champions in southern Germany. The company employs 6,000 people worldwide, about 500 of whom work in production in Germany. In the culture project, which we accompanied for two years, the question arose again and again whether self-responsible work was possible in production. There was a very well working training department. Nevertheless, it was very difficult to recruit and retain skilled journeymen for production. Working there was old School. Many processes were predetermined, people were co-workers not co-thinkers. 

The production manager had the idea that the Denkwerkstatt was to moderate a workshop in which 10 employees and 4 managers were to think about the factory of the future: Many proposals were developed to give more responsibility to the grassroots. When the participants returned and presented their proposals to their colleagues, they met with broad rejection from their colleagues. However, the production management kept at it. Discussions about self-responsible work in production continued in foremen's meetings. A policy paper on the factory of the future was drawn up. 

 In a round of talks between the foremen and some of the employees, it was agreed that in two production lines four teams should develop a procedure for how in the future employees would allocate themselves independently at the start of the shift, organize missing resources independently and hold the REKOS without bosses. 

 Gradually, the remaining teams practiced the new roles in simulations. The foremen in charge of the shifts had to learn to let go and the employees learned how to increasingly control themselves within the team. In the meantime, almost the entire factory is working independently. The foremen now have more time for coaching their employees and other new tasks. One team that had participated in a simulation workshop summed it up like this: "We came individually and left as a team." 
One employee who had taken part in the first workshop on the factory of the future had been abroad for a year in the meantime. When he returned, he could not believe his eyes. "You tarred and feathered us back then for our ideas!" But people had implemented more than initially dreamed, despite the initial skepticism. For apprentices, the work is now interesting again.  

Training of shift supervisors in the middle of production 

A beverage manufacturer has a production plant with 150 people and about 20 shift supervisors. The company works in three shifts. Classical 2 - day leadership trainings showed little success. The parent company in Switzerland suggested that we conduct leadership training on site. A program for operational excellence was planned. However, this would not work without the support of the managers at the grassroots level. The internal HR department was able to convince the production management of the way forward. 

This meant working with the shift leader teams for 4 hours at a time during production. After each impulse, each shift leader received one hour of coaching on site in production to deepen and discuss individual questions and problems. There was a coordinated program of topics on communication, employee discussions, dealing with conflicts and solution-oriented thinking. The seminar room was the production site. For shift leaders, this is hard to do in the 10 hours of attendance, demanding, albeit practical leadership training. 
After two rounds, the managers are already showing greater self-confidence and celebrating the first successes of their independence. 

What do we conclude from this? Productions are very much changeable. One manager told us in the context of the change process phrases that you don't forget:

"Our employees in production take care of many important things in their lives. They conclude financing agreements, plan their retirement, support their children as they start out in life. We managers have so little confidence in them that many have switched off. That has to change, otherwise we won't have a corporate future!"