In its new business groups, Applied Materials has changed the way decisions are made. Each week in the Solar Business Group, a technology roadmap/strategy meeting is held with all levels of employees invited, from VP to engineer. It was called the Tea House meeting because Samurai only remove their swords when they enter a tea house. In the same spirit, each person at the meeting has equal rank and all opinions must be considered regardless of who proposes them. In this way, the collective knowledge of the organization is optimized.
The Solar Business Group held these meetings to guide development in solar technology. The Tea House format was installed by Randhir Thakur who was the General Manager at the time. Started in 2009, the Tea House meeting took advantage of the collective expertise of the entire organization. This was a critical point because the Solar Business was a new growth area for the company. The ambitious growth targets required a new way of organizing and planning. The Tea House format allowed more opinions to be added to the discussion.
An initiative was undertaken by the company to produce the first large area thin film solar module. This was an incredible challenge that had not been done before. Since the solar module incorporated many different types of technology, an efficient method was needed to maximize the collective knowledge of the Technology team. Not only were there were varying levels of experience in the organization, but half of the development team was based in Germany. Clearly, a top down hierarchy would be inefficient for this initiative. A forum was needed where all ideas and opinions could be expressed from any level in the organization.
Key Innovations & Timeline
2007 - Division goal set to reach 10% efficiency on thin film Si solar panel by 2010
2008 - 6% efficiency achieved
2009 - March, 8% efficiency achieved
2009 - May, Accelerated effort needed to reach goal
2009 - May, Tea House meeting established
2009 - December, 9% efficiency achieved
2010 - July, 10% efficiency achieved
Challenges & Solutions
Changing culture takes time. Reinforcement of this idea was required in the first few sessions to get the right attitude.
Benefits & Metrics
This forum empowers all levels of the team to contribute by removing the biases the come with titles and hierarchy.
Utilizing the talent of the entire organization will be a part of the long term growth of the company.
The most valuable part of an organization is the people. Create an environment where there are no barriers to their contribution.