Teaming, also referred to as a self-directed work structure, participative management or a high performance work system, is a cultural priority for GE Aviation Supply Chain. It is an effort to move decision-making as close to the product as possible by delegating authority, responsibility and accountability to front-line workers.
The General Electric Company was created in 1892 by the merger of the Edison General Electric Company and the Thomson-Houston Electric Company.It has grown to become one of the world’s largest companies, with businesses ranging from consumer appliances and industrial equipment like locomotives and wind turbines to financial services and aircraft engines.
GE’s aviation segment originated in 1917 when GE developed, at the request of the U.S. government, a turbosupercharger to boost the power of aircraft piston engines at high altitudes. GE continued to develop turbosuperchargers over the next few decades and its experience in that field encouraged the U.S. Government to commission GE to develop the nation’s first jet engine. That engine – the I-A – first flew in 1942. Today, GE Aviation’s Supply Chain organization includes more than 70 plants which develop, manufacture, assemble, test and repair jet engines for commercial and military aircraft
Several plants across GE Aviation have been working in a teaming environment for up to 30 years, including Bromont, Quebec and Durham, North Carolina. Those sites, in addition to newer sites in North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Germany, are experiencing great success, particularly in lowering manufacturing costs and increasing productivity.In 2010, the leadership team decided to make teaming a priority across the entire Supply Chain organization. GE Aviation executives believe that teaming will increase productivity, improve flexibility, lower costs and enhance competitiveness, because an empowered workforce will be more engaged, remain highly motivated and make better decisions.As a result, the organization began engaging employees at all levels and teaming began to spread throughout the organization.(See Exhibits: Plant Comparisons and The Business Case for Teaming).
For the last three years, the GE Aviation Supply Chain leadership team has been implementing a teaming work structure across the organization. This means that workers will take on roles traditionally performed by management or support personnel, including production planning and scheduling, setting policies about overtime and vacation, participating in the hiring process for new workers, purchasing equipment, and helping to set up manufacturing processes. In short, workers will own the production process and participate in the management of the plant. The difference in a teaming facility is not simply changing the work structures and processes; it represents a different culture, a different way of thinking about work and a different set of attitudes and values for both managers and employees.
Teaming represents the largest organizational initiative in GE Aviation’s recent history, which has caused both anxiety and great energy as people begin to understand what is needed to make teaming work across a global business. In order to provide a framework for this journey, GE Aviation Supply Chain created five phases for teaming, which embodies the cycles a team or facility will experience:
- Get Ready: Leadership learns teaming and develops initial strategy for teaming roll-out.
- Launch: Individuals become oriented to the team and work together to determine team dynamics.
- Journey: Each unit begins to define accountability while determining day-to-day responsibilities.
- Ownership: Units begin to take ownership and accountability of their process, product and duties.
- Growth: Units are functioning as self-sustained, self-directed work teams; always looking for improvement and growth opportunities.
Bromont, Quebec (Canada)
While GE Aviation Supply Chain wanted to have a common framework with the phases of teaming, it also understood that teaming will look different at every site where it is implemented, and the plants in Bromont, Quebec (Canada) and Durham, NC (USA) were powerful models to emulate. At the Bromont plant, teaming has been built into the structure and culture of the plant from the time it opened in 1982. The plant’s management structure is flat, with only three levels (plant leader, support team, and production teams). Many leadership responsibilities rest with production teams, including quality, health and safety, process improvement, production planning and overtime management, purchasing new equipment, and training, among others. The production teams are responsible for a variety of roles that were done by management in a traditional shop. Management of the various areas are accomplished through a committee structure in which team members are elected to serve for periods of time in specific leadership roles and serve as representatives on the committees. (See Exhibit: Bromont Participative Management Organization). The committees (also referred to as councils in some plants) is a forum in which representatives from each team in the plant come together on a regular bases to discuss site-wide topics, take recommendations back to their teams, and make decisions that affect the entire facility. Committee meeting schedules vary by plant. The Bromont facility has 14 standing committees, which are divided between recommendation and decision committees.
- The recommendation committees are plant, modernized multi-skilling, gain sharing and compensation.
- The decision committees are dispute resolution, health and safety, social activities, cell operating multi-skilling progress and hiring.
- Committees that are both recommendation and decision are training, production, first responders, intervention brigade and Healthahead.
The committees’ representatives make decisions on behalf of the team and in turn have the responsibility of communicating actions back to their teams. The committees also serve as a place where representatives can voice team concerns or opinions in a plant-wide setting. An example is the plant committee, which includes representatives from each team, plant leadership and human resources. The plant committee addresses issues of concern for the entire plant, such as hiring, establishing wage grades and decisions about allocating overtime, promotions or moving employees between shifts. All front-line operators are required to be multi-skilled, mastering at least four jobs before reaching the top pay grade. There is only one job classification for production workers. Workers are expected to continually learn new jobs, and the company mandates 120 hours of formal training per year. Each team’s training committee establishes a plan regularly to move workers from one job to another, even if not demanded by production needs, in order to keep their skills sharp.
The structures and processes around teaming helps create a strong culture of values, such as trust, respect, humility and accountability at all levels of the organization. Workers take responsibility for themselves and leadership within their teams, while engineers and managers are humble enough to recognize that ideas for improvements might come from the plant floor. Engineers are technical exempt employees who constantly walk the plant floor, which fosters an environment of constant communication because operators offer suggestions for innovations and improvements. Engineers are expected to listen to employees and work with them to make improvements, so there is always continuous process improvement coming up from the plant floor. The same is true in Durham and other teaming sites; part of the transition to teaming is to train engineers to respond to calls from the plant floor and for operators to have the confidence to bring problems with the design or process to engineering or management. A great example of accountability is a voluntary program the plant put in place. Bromont’s accident rate dropped dramatically when the plant introduced a program in 2007 in which workers volunteered to observe other operators (who agreed to be observed) and give them feedback on their behaviors as related to health and safety. The program showed a dramatic improvement over a similar behavior-based program in which supervisors provided the observations and feedback, which had only marginal success. A similar program of peer observation and feedback identified behavior-based quality issues and contributed to similar improvements in quality outcomes
None of this happened right away, and employees in Bromont recognized that in order to maintain the culture of their plant, they had to ensure they successfully integrated newly hired employees. The Bromont plant’s hiring committee, which includes representatives from the production team as well as HR and the leadership team, work hard to determine if a potential hire, whether an hourly production worker or a manager, shares the values of the plant’s culture and how well he or she will collaborate with others. Bromont plant leaders cite a number of examples that illustrated the power of teaming. One in particular was during the years of 2008 and 2009, in which the production needs were going down and the plant needed to reduce overall production volume and labor hours. The plant leader presented the problem to the plant committee, which came up with a plan of offering an unpaid leave of absence to those who wanted to take it. The team representatives took the suggestion back to their teams and secured enough volunteers to meet the necessary reduction. During that time, the flexibility of the workforce meant that people could move from team to team, and from shift to shift if necessary, enabling the plant to weather the downturn. GE leaders insisted that because the plan was initiated by the representatives of the various teams, it faced much less resistance than it would have if management had proposed such a plan in a more top-down organization.
Bromont has more than 700 employees with approximately 80 salaried exempt and 630 hourly. There are eight teams within the facility, with six focused on production and two service teams focused on tasks like maintenance and tooling. Most of the technical support staff (technicians, engineers, etc.) and cell leaders (called coaches at some sites) are dedicated to specific teams as a means of achieving the team’s goal. There are other support functions such as HR, Finance, IT, and EHS that aren’t dedicated to one team, but they support all teams. On average about 70-80 people are on each production team (the smallest team has 55 and the largest team has 140). An example of team structure is Team Titan. Each team consists of two coaches and the team members are broken into 11 sub-teams based on processes and machines (i.e. grinders, inspection, etc.). The sub-team model works for Bromont because it allows everyone to be multi-skilled, which permits people to support each other and go where the help is needed.
Each team elects team members to serve in roles for two years with the responsibility of performing specifics tasks that help the team to operate more effectively. Some roles are done through an election process by the entire team, and other roles, such as the more technical roles, go through an interview process. Teams make the final decision of who will fill a certain role. The most common roles on teams are:
- Line of Balance- production planning
- EHS & Preventative Maintenance- these two roles are combined because it allows issues to be fixed much faster than if they were separate
- Quality- work closely with quality support staff to find solutions and conduct status checks
- New Product Introduction- work alongside engineers to test new processes
Understanding business metrics is key to the success of every employee at Bromont. The facility has a world-class visual management system, where employees can see real time how they are doing against their metrics. The facility has a site-wide gain-sharing program based on the facility’s performance to goals. Everyone participates in the gain-sharing program, and the payout is contingent on how well the facility does.
Team members in Bromont have a wide range of flexibility. Team members can perform many jobs from one process to another, and they are proud to take on responsibility for tasks that are usually performed by management. Because of the size of the teams, there are various ways in which teams make decisions. While consensus is the preferred method, some decisions do happen by voting. For example, when it comes to hiring there is a formal process, but the team will use consensus, which allows for everyone’s opinion to be heard,) to ultimately select on the right candidate.
Conflict is unavoidable, and teams receive ongoing coaching on how to deal with conflict. When conflict does arise in the team, the team members will try to work it out themselves initially. If this strategy doesn’t work, they will then solicit the help of their cell leader. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, they will take it to the cell operating committee (two cell leaders, three team members, HR representative). If it is conflict over a rule or policy, it can be brought up to the next level, either cell operating committee for a team rule or the plant committee for a plant-wide rule or policy. At both these levels, employees have the power to change these rules by adding the change to the committee’s agenda and working it through the team.
While teams take on a lot of the responsibility of traditional managers, cell leaders still play a critical role in the success of the facility. The Bromont team believes that a good high performing team is complemented by great cell leaders. The cell leaders are there to help encourage ideas, engage their teams in the business metrics and facilitate communication within the team when needed.
Durham, NC (USA)
Durham has been teaming for the last 20 years, and this work culture has led to increased productivity and product quality improvements, even on relatively mature products that have been assembled at the plant for many years. Empowered to constantly seek new ways to improve productivity, one engine assembly team worked on projects that lead to faster assembly and better quality, improving an engine that had been in production for more than 10 years. Team members also call engineering to highlight design for assembly improvements. They are very proud to bring engine designers in to highlight sequence of assembly challenges or other improvements that they discover. The teaming environment fosters open communications and encourages fresh and diverse thinking, resulting in a steady flow of improvement ideas. (See Exhibit: Durham Engine Facility).
Another benefit of teaming at Durham is the ability to flexibly balance workloads. Durham assembles the “hot section” of the engine for the Airbus A380. Because A380 sales had been choppy, team members can flexibly shift between other engine lines as needed. The steep production ramp-up of the new GEnx engine for the Boeing 787 means that frequent component shortages or shipment delays bring challenges to the production schedule. Team members recognize the importance of on-time delivery of completed engines, so they adjust their work hours based on when components are available, changing shifts during the week and weekends as needed to keep production on track without adding overtime hours to the schedule. Team members actually seem to enjoy the flexible work schedules, trading weekday and weekend shifts with ease.
Durham teams have assumed responsibility for the arrangement of their workspaces, and they are flexible on how work is divided. Senior team members often mentor newer operators, letting them manage update meetings as a way to learn communication skills or trading jobs as a way of learning. The Durham plant manager even works on engine builds on a regular basis. Health and Safety and productivity gains have in part been driven by systems of peer observation and feedback. .
Durham currently has 19 teams (18 production teams and one support team). There are approximately 315 technicians overall, with an additional 35 support exempt employees. On average, there are 18 technicians per team with a range of 10-22 on a team. Three support team members are dedicated to each program: Program Improvement Leader, Quality Leader and Materials Leader (for example GEnx has five teams, but one support team to cover all five for the program). Durham has two shifts and both shifts meet together for an “overlap” meeting every day from 2:30-3:30 (note: in plants with three shifts, there are “overlap” meetings between 1st and 2nd, 2nd and 3rd, 3rd and 1st).
Every team has various roles and responsibilities that are divided among team members. Teams are responsible for such things as quality, production planning, overtime, process development, EHS, team training, hiring and preventative maintenance. Every team member is crossed trained, which allows flexibility for teams to cover things, such as vacations and other roles within the plant (i.e. council representation). Examples of team roles are the materials representative and workstation owner, which require someone to stay in these roles for 12 months. The materials representative has a meeting every week with their support team, and they help schedule manpower because they know where material is and when it will be available. They also kick off the team meetings to talk about coverage and manpower.
The work station owner is a strategic role on the team and this person spends a lot of time off the floor working on making the workstation (or area) more optimal for the team. The work station owner is responsible for the planning for the build (change in design and assembly practice) and setting up the work station to address ergonomic concerns.
While every team has its own unique personality, there are also some similarities when it comes to how the teams function. As previously stated, every team has a materials representative who kicks off each team meeting and explains where materials are and where the team is in the production process. The representative also assigns who will work on what for the day. Each team also has a set meeting agenda, which includes: safety, quality, business, personnel and council updates. Most of the team meeting is spent on quality, manpower plannin, and performance management.
Similar to Bromont, the Durham facility has site-wide committees. Durham has 11 committees that fall under four categories: People, Processes, Quality and Health and Wellness. The purpose of these committees is to bring a representative from each of the 19 teams together to discuss site-wide topics and make decisions. Selection to be a council representative is strictly voluntarily, and the commitment is 12 months. Technicians must serve in a council role if they desire to move to a higher level. The councils at Durham are as follows:
- People (Human Resources, Positive Discipline & Personal Development, Training)
- Processes (Tool & Gauge, Materials, IT Systems)
- Quality (Quality Systems)
- Health and Wellness (Environment/Health/Safety, HealthAhead)
When it comes to decision making, the Durham teams have tremendous flexibility. While there are boundaries, the teams take on many decisions that managers in a traditional organization would normally perform. So what decisions do the teams make that a traditional manager normally would and what process do they utilize? Some examples of decisions made by the team include:
- Manpower planning: Determines how many people are needed on each shift with the flexibility to adjust this based on business need.
- Personal time off: Technicians are allowed five personal business days, and the team can approve up to three of those days (days 4 and 5 must be approved by plant leader).
Teams can decide to put someone on a coaching plan, which is a form of performance management that is managed by the team for a team member who may be having issues in a particular area but may not warrant discipline, such as suspension or termination. The coaching plan is meant to help the team member improve performance or behavior and is a step that occurs before more serious action occurs. When it comes to discipline beyond coaching, the team can submit its thoughts to the Positive Discipline & Personal Development Council, and peers from the council can recommend action to the plant leader. The team does the investigation and submits it to the plant leader.
- What is the role of HR? HR is a support resource for all teams and the three councils under people. In particular to the Positive Discipline & Personal Development Council, HR facilitates training on proper ways to investigate, addresses any legal and policy related questions, and steps in if the council isn’t handling something correctly. Otherwise the technicians lead the process of investigation and recommend the discipline to the plant leader.
Teams use the process of consensus to come to decisions. The big factor in consensus decision making is “can everyone live with the decision”. This doesn’t mean everyone agrees, but everyone will support the decision moving forward. Consensus can be tough and not always achieved quickly, but it allows for everyone’s opinion to be heard and the team to come to a more thoughtful decision.
Within any team there is always some form of conflict, even at a very mature teaming site such as Durham. The teams are taught to utilize the following steps when dealing with conflict.
- Address 1-on-1.
- Team level discussion: Those involved can bring it up to a team if the 1-on-1 didn’t work (there is a team-level discussion and everyone signs).
- Coaching plan: The entire team will put an individual on the plan and the person getting coached can select their coach
- If none of the above works, they will go to the Positive Discipline & Personal Development Council and pull in HR for coaching if needed.
In order for teams to have a great foundation, they must understand the business. The team also must have accurate information about the business in order to make the best decisions. Durham’s teams participate in a quarterly program review with the plant leader when they share their metrics and how they are doing against them. Each team has a “dashboard” or scorecard of metrics that can be viewed at the plant level, team level and individual level. During the quarterly review, the dashboard is reviewed at the team level. Metrics included in the dashboards are as follows:
While Durham doesn’t have a site-wide gain-sharing program, each team receives funding if they meet their EHS metrics that they can use for team-building activities. The Plant Leader also gives every team eight hours of paid team-building time that they can use in four hour blocks.
Over time, Durham’s leaders have learned the difference between high-performing teams and low-performing teams is communication and understanding the business. High-performing teams understand cycle time and if they don’t have material ready, they find other activities to do to avoid idle time. They also understand how to utilize manpower to support the team or other teams that need support. Being open and transparent with each other on such things as when they will be out or any quality/EHS issues also contribute to the success of the team.
GE Aviation Supply Chain leadership believes that teaming is a crucial ingredient in making plants more competitive. By early 2012, it was clear that it would take more than just committed leadership to change the culture in the more traditional plants. Many of the workers were resistant to change, having worked under the same system for decades. Some were unwilling to change their jobs, to take up leadership roles and accept responsibility for teams’ performance. Others feared they might not be able to acquire the skills required to do multiple jobs. Further, employees had seen a number of initiatives designed to improve productivity come through the organization – quality circles, work out, TQM and the like – and were suspicious that teaming might just be another program that would be tried for a while and then abandoned.
The transition to teaming was equally difficult for some supervisors, as the shift from a directive style of leadership to a coaching and facilitating role generated intense anxieties. Some doubted whether they had the necessary skill set to coach and mentor team members in the new environment. Others feared that if they gave up power and authority to their team, performance would suffer. There was also the fear that once they gave decision-making authority and management responsibilities to the team, their own role and contribution as supervisors would become unclear. If they were no longer telling the team what to do, what would their role be? It is essential that there is buy-in throughout the entire organization prior to rolling out this new culture. In order to achieve this, a strong strategy with effective communication and trust must take place.
GE Aviation Supply Chain leaders have what they call a strong “belief system” around teaming because of the evidence drawn from the successful application of teaming in plants such as Bromont, Durham and a number of plants in the supply chain. The results they had witnessed convinced leaders that the best ideas for innovation and improvement often came from the plant floor and could only truly happen by giving workers the information, responsibility and accountability to make decisions. This was especially true in a highly technical manufacturing business, where constant innovation was essential to success.
The plant in Durham, which had put in place a self-directed workforce structure when it opened in 1993, had been outstanding on performance metrics – year-over-year productivity growth, first-time yield quality and on-time delivery rates. Similarly, the Bromont plant, which had operated with a participative management structure since its opening in 1982, boasted impressive measures of productivity, quality and safety. Other, newer plants in Mississippi, South Carolina and Germany boasted similar high levels of performance. Those plants had been teaming shops from the beginning, while plants in Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana had seen success in bringing teaming to both traditional and recently acquired shops.
What are the most important things learned from Bromont and Durham in creating real ownership to fully leverage the capabilities of every individual?
- Employees must know their leaders trust them to make decisions and give them the opportunity to make changes within clearly defined boundaries.
- Metrics must be clearly communicated and transparent. Employees will feel more ownership and accountability if they understand how they are being measured. For example: showing the cycle time number, what it means, and the importance to the business allows employees to understand what levers they can pull.
- Employee must be involved in setting goals. When employees feel they have input, they have “skin” in the game and when something goes wrong or a goal isn’t met, the employees feel and care about the impact. An example from Durham is if there is a quality escape, that person responsible has to come up with an explanation and solution on how to fix the problem, and we try to have them understand the business impact and what that means to the customer.
Hiring and Staffing
At both facilities, selection of the right employees, both support staff and non-exempt/hourly, is taken very seriously. Both plants have rigorous selection processes to ensure that both the company and candidate are the right fit for each other. In many traditional organizations, technical skills are the most important factor. However in Bromont and Durham, “soft” skills (or the non-technical skills) are just as important if not more important. Some key soft skills are communication, flexibility, integrity, maturity of judgment, work skills, accountability and team skills. The interview process at both facilities consists of representatives from the production teams, support team, HR and the plant leader.
- In order to facilitate the way a team manages itself, it is very important for the team to establish boundaries in order for team members and support staff to clearly understand roles and responsibilities. The establishment of boundaries is a joint effort between teams and support staff. For example, hourly employees do not decide how much overtime is allowed, the cell leader does. However once the cell leader of a team decides the requirements around overtime, it is now up to the members of the team to decide which overtime rules they want to apply (attribute by competencies, seniority or shifts, etc.) and how they will distribute it. In this case, the line established is clear and respected by the team. There is no recipe of participative management that an organization can copy – the team has to come together to establish and define which boundaries are suitable for them.
- Participative management is recognized to trigger better results; however, it is not an easy road. Influencing, listening and achieving consensus is time consuming upfront, but the results are much greater. It is the key to buy-in, effective and long-lasting change. It helps in achieving desired deal outcome, better cultural integration of solutions and brings up engagement from all parties involved.
- In order for employees to accept and commit to a new vision, they must understand that vision and believe they have the power to change things and influence. Participative management requires cell leaders to use their influence power, their coaching and listening skills in order to make change last and mobilize commitment, rather than using their authority as done in conventional management. That implies when hiring looking at participatory management style (empowerment, delegation, teamwork) and personality traits such as leadership, humility, trust and open-mindedness. Finally, all employees from the different levels of the organization need to be open to change and not be scared to do things differently. Again, the process may take a bit longer than a traditional one, but it really optimizes change effectiveness.
- In order to have participative management used as a strategic and competitive advantage, senior leadership has to believe in the system and roll it down the organization. Concretely, it means for management to be on the floor, walk the talk, participate in plant committees and thoroughly consider the recommendations made by the employees. It becomes the key differentiating factor between success and failure.
- A few things to considering when developing a high-performing self-directed team are to think about the optimal size you want your organization to be and to build a framework that can deal with exponential growth if needed due to business needs.
- Provide business metrics that the teams can get their arms around on Day One and at the level of empowerment in which the new teams are given. This will drive a greater level of ownership to overall business performance outcomes. This in turn will drive team or individual-level performance transparency as well as create a framework to link teams and individuals to organizational-wide goals & objects.
- Training/ Learning & Development has to be a core of the organization to help the teams navigate the teaming journey. This keeps the organization refreshed and drives greater engagement and contributions from the teams. Build training into your operation plans and keep it as an item that is critical to quality for your organization’s competitiveness.
- Leadership accountable is critical to the health and welfare of a teaming organization. As team members gain more expertise, promotions, influence and credibility among peers, it is important for the organization to ensure team members remain true to the guiding principles and the mission & vision established and have increasing responsibilities tied to key business metric. Organizations should provide a performance improvement process that may consist of positive progress discipline practices and tools to address performance gaps.
- Create an onboarding process that will help with new hires being assimilated into the culture. Self-directed teaming organizations can be an adjustment for those transitioning from a traditional organization. Attracting talent you believe possess the traits ideal for your organization is step 1. Retaining them is the 2nd step in assuring these new team members enjoy their new workplace, but also can immediately add value to their respective teams.
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GE Aviation’s Durham, NC Engine Facility Teams
GE Aviation’s Bromont, Quebec Facility Teams
GE Aviation Supply Chain Teaming Organization
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