The Challenge: Departmental Conflict

A mid-size manufacturing and fabrication firm producing highly specialized large-scale industrial equipment. Conflict between functional groups within the organization was diminishing OTIF rates. On what had become an almost predictable cadence, these conflicts would impact the firm’s ability to deliver customer orders. The cycle went like this: as orders for the exceptional and rare platforms this firm built would increase in volume and scope, operations and capacity would become strained. This stress on the organization was driving interpersonal relations across teams to break down, and the resulting behavior patterns would drag down the speed and quality of work and the process as a whole. Just at the point where leadership would begin to be able to invest in scaling the operation to adapt to these higher workloads and customer demands – the manufacturing process would begin to break down and disappointed customers would pull back on order volume. When the volume decreased, tensions would ease and operations would become smoother. Customers would slowly grow in confidence at the improved results, and in time orders would increase again, triggering a repeat of the cycle.

Assessment Insights

 

After developing a thorough understanding of this cycle at a high level from the leadership team, Wayforward conducted an Employee Experience Assessment. From the front-line employees, we found a strong technical understanding of the process as a whole. Even the most entry-level staff had a surprisingly good understanding of the engineering and science behind their roles and responsibilities. That was of course what allowed the firm to produce such specialized equipment for their customer segments. But what accounted for the breakdown and tension was a much weaker understanding of how the teams handling the preceding and following process steps in the build preferred to work, and what their wants and needs were from those teams. In other words, the technical needs of the external customer was thoroughly understood – but each team was relatively ignorant of the needs of their internal customers and internal suppliers.

When time was relatively plentiful and there was room to breathe in the capacity of most teams, small issues with process handoffs, timing, and details with the state of the equipment itself were easy to overlook and accommodate for across teams. But as orders picked up and production timelines got tighter, these issues drove cumulative downtime, re–work, and even simple workstation cleanliness issues that would get on the nerves of other departments. As months passed, this would devolve into finger pointing, withheld communication, and passive aggressive tendencies – even among supervision and management. Blame for production and quality metrics became a routine squabble, and soon the entire team would lose focus of how much these things were truly contributing to extended timelines and hits to quality.

Applied Methods

We began by capturing the quantitative impact of this situation. Measuring its impact by process-step for the first time, we created the closest approximation of what ‘good’ looked like versus what ‘bad’ looked like at the top and bottom of the cycle. We were then able to show the team from each of these steps how much better they performed when they were not operating in this place of stress and conflict. From this newfound intellectual and emotional understanding, we began to facilitate a series of team crossovers. These were utilized with each internal supplier-internal customer pairing, in both the production processes and other support processes like Sales, Maintenance, and Quality. These crossover workshops allowed the pairs to understand one another’s working processes and how best to ‘supply’ and ‘receive’ from each other. It allowed visibility into the day to day realities and the impacts that occurred when these needs were not being met. Following these crossover workshops, the departmental leaders were taken offsite and put through a series of relationship-strengthening social psychology exercises with one another – first in an all-day workshop at the Wayforward facilities, and then in a short weekly series of exercises onsite. This drove a sustainable practice of ongoing communication and collaboration at the supervisor level, and taught this tier of the company improved relationship-building behaviors that front-line employees would be able to model in the future.