Rl Wolfe Implementing Self Directed Teams Management Essay

This report discussed the concept of self-directed teams and analyses the application at a RF Wolfe plastics manufacturing facility in Corpus Christi, Texas. The rest of Section 1 gives an overview of the layout of the report. Section 2 provides a definition of a self-directed team and provides a summary of the main advantages and disadvantages of the approach.

The results of the analysis of the application at the Corpus Christi plant is then presented in Section 3. The analysis starts with a look at the goal which had been defined for the facility, which is followed by an analysis of the successes and disappointments over the 3 year period. Based on the findings of the case analysis, Section 3 ends with a series of recommendations for improvements to better apply SDTs at Corpus Christi in order to boost productivity

The report then looks at the potential for the application of self-directed teams at Wolfe‟s other two plants, and this proposed strategy is presented in Section 4.

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2.1. What is a Self-Directed Team?

Self-Directed Teams (SDTs) have become a key concept for today‟s business world. Automobile giant Chrysler has attributed its success in part to the application of SDTs to create what they call „smart manufacturing‟ processes. Citing a study conducted jointly in 1990, Silverman and Propst (1996) define a Self Directed Team as follows:

“A group of employees who have day-to-day responsibility for managing themselves and the work they do. Members of self-directed teams typically handle job assignments, plan and schedule work, make production related decisions and take actions on problems. Members of self-directing teams work with a minimum of direct supervision.”

SDTs share a few characteristics that set them apart from other groups and teams. They are typically characterized by greater face to face interaction, with teams working in small clusters. However, the two key characteristics are that SDTs complete an entire piece of work or are responsible for producing a definable product, which may require several interdependent tasks and also have full control and autonomy over the execution of those tasks. Effective leadership and effective decision making are therefore critical to the success of SDTs.

Rami (2010), citing the work of various organizational behavioural experts suggests that “an

SDT is not created or appointed. It‟s grown. It‟s nurtured and guided until it can start

operating on its own. Over time, the empowerment by the team facilitator switches to the team

members, and the team becomes self-managed. Facilitators begin with a directing / controlling

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behaviour, through to coaching, involving and teaching others to lead themselves. Whilst this process is occurring, the team itself shifts from executing the facilitator‟s instructions, through

to participating, planning and eventually, taking responsibility and control.”

Organizations must understand the process surrounding how teams become self-directed over time. Zawacki and Norman (1994) suggest that successful self-directed teams evolve through five stages. These are:

· Stage 1: The typical hierarchical structure where the leader provides one-on-one supervision;

Stage 2: The leader evolves into a group manager whose role is making the transition into team coordinator/coach;

Stage 3: The group manager becomes the team coordinator and provides a structure for self-managed team members to receive the necessary training to take on more leadership tasks;

Stage 4: The team assumes most of the duties previously reserved for the group manager, who now becomes a boundary interface; and

Stage 5: The group manager (i.e., the team coordinator) is a resource for the team.

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2.2. Key Advantages Self Directed Teams

A survey of more than 500 organizations offers several reasons why senior line managers chose to revolutionize their approach to work (Williams 1995), indicating that self-directed work teams have resulted in:

Improved quality, productivity and service.

Greater flexibility.

Reduced operating costs.

Faster response to technological change.

Fewer, simpler job classifications.

Better response to workers’ values.

Increased employee commitment to the organization.

Ability to attract and retain the best people.

Some of the key advantages are discussed further below.

Autonomy: This approach affords more quickly and effectively to empowerment, which contributes

a higher level of autonomy allowing employees to respond client and stakeholder demands and creates a sense of to increased motivation. Herzberg used the term job

„enrichment‟ to describe how the motivator factors can be used to achieve higher levels of

satisfaction with a job. In his Motivator-Hygiene theory, achievement and recognition as well

as responsibility and advancement are consistently related to employee job satisfaction.

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The self-directed way represents a revolutionary approach to the way work is organized and performed. Instead of organizing work based on the traditional Taylor model (reducing a process to individual steps), the work is organised around whole processes. Interdependence and joint responsibility for outputs is critical for the success of the SDT. Contrary to the traditional system, the self-directed approach includes the needs of the people with the work being done and those closest to the job help design the way the work is done. It has therefore shown to produce less boredom and the greater involvement of the employees brings better buy in and therefore more motivation in the work. Companies are redistributing power, authority and responsibility so that the people closest to the customer and the end product or result have decision-making capability (Williams 1995)

Increased organizational effectiveness: As the SDT is a cross functional work group, completing an entire task or creating an entire product, the team as a unit, is able to make better decisions and produce quality ideas and solutions to generate innovative products or services.

Organisational Democracy: SDTs can help maintain democracy and at the same time keep employees motivated (Williams, 1995). The greater involvement afforded cultivates a sense of belonging to the organization and employees feel responsible for the outcome of the operation.

2.3. Challenges of Self Directed Teams

Cultivating an effective SDT is not an easy task, as there are inherent challenges. Team work can take more time and may also use more resources that individual work. Teams may take

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longer with decision making as they need to get past interpersonal barriers and conflicts need to be managed. Teams require greater communication effort. Time and energy is often expended towards team development and maintenance rather than the task at hand. The software

industry even coined the term Brooke‟s Law for this concept – „adding more people to a late

software project only makes it later‟.

The move to a self-directed approach is often a paradigm shift for an organization. As teams move to a high-involvement environment, they need to be developed and management needs to foster a climate of support. There must be a commitment to instill a culture that will promote empowerment and autonomy, coupled with a high level of involvement and motivation. The journey is often a long one, taking between two and five years, and is never-ending from a learning and renewal perspective.

Intense, continuous and comprehensive training is critical to developing effective SDTs. Employees are often cross trained, so that new skill sets need to be developed. They also need to learn to work effectively in teams and develop skills in problem solving and decision making. Also, as these teams are self-managed, employees also need to learn basic management skills.

These teams are given a high degree of autonomy. However, there must be some amount of

management intervention. This is a potential area for conflict and management would need to manage this balance by possibly providing alternative options to the teams and having them decide which option is the best.

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The SDT approach often includes some form of performance incentive. Rewards and recognition programs can potentially influence behavior of teams. Some rewards lose effect over time. Management must constantly review these incentives to ensure that they remain

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suitable and relevant to the teams.

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3.1. Overview of the Corpus Christi Case

In 2003, John Amasi, the Director of Production and Engineering for RL Wolfe introduced the concept of Self Directed Teams into their newly acquired plastics manufacturing plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. This was a major paradigm shift in RL Wolfe‟s manufacturing plants, which were traditionally unionized.

Amasi had been intrigued by the concept of self- directed teams and the reported 30% to 40% increase in production and quality in the SDTs run units. With the help of Jay Winslow, the new plant manager, they set the refurbished plant an aggressive goal of achieving 95% or more of design capacity. This was much higher than the two other Wolfe plants which were running at 65% to 75% design capacity.

After four years, the plant at Corpus Christi was running at 80% to 82% of design capacity and there are signs of absenteeism and low morale and Amasi and Winslow have decided to look at ways to further improve performance.

3.2. Goal of the SDT at Corpus Christi

Amasi‟s goal was to create a high productivity plant, which would produce in the range of 95%

or more of design capacity. For a plant running on average 67.5% design capacity, an increase

to 95% design capacity would require an improvement of about 40%.

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3.3. Successes and challenges in implementing the SDT approach

The case was analysed to determine the impact of the SDTs on organizational efficiency, proficiency, and overall effectiveness. Based on the case, there are a few key issues contributing to the overall productivity levels at the plant.

3.3.1. Job Definitions

Prior to the implementation of the SDTs, line workers were treated a lower grade than the maintenance staff. This inequality had fuelled disagreements between the two sets of workers. With the SDT model, the role of the technician was developed to be a more technical role, with a distinct focus on technical problem solving. One of the key success factors for SDTs is having the solutions for issues to come from the members of the team. To have a divide be set up from the beginning, whereby problem solving is restricted to one job function would clearly limit the potential for the team.

Over time, the role of the technician has therefore become more elite than the role of the line operators, almost like a supervisor and line operators are now complaining that the „technicians

are being used like foremen‟. The issue is supported by the Equity theory, which has shown that worker satisfaction is influenced by employees‟ perceptions about how fairly they are treated compared with their coworkers. The line operators will make an „upward‟ social

comparison with the technicians, which fuels worker dissatisfaction. Winslow correctly

identified this issue when he said that the „subtle distinctions between roles are creeping back into our culture‟.

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This perceived divide would probably be more pronounced in the material handling team as there are only two technicians in that team (more elite), as opposed to the extrusion team where almost half of the team are technicians (six out of eight).

3.3.2. Individual Recognition & Performance evaluation.

Winslow reported that when the coordinators post listing of outstanding performers, people on the listing did not like it, which suggests there might be perceived issues with the way in which the evaluations are being conducted to generate the listing. Yet Winslow reported success with group recognition. This suggests there might be issues worth investigating with the perception of the transparency with the evaluation process. This suggestion is justified by workers unwillingness to participate in peer evaluations. This is a considerable barrier as peer evaluations are a key means of evaluating team performance.

3.3.3. Size and Composition of the Teams

Winslow is suggesting that the size of the teams might be too large and is considering reducing them. Smaller teams tend to be more effective. However, teams need to be large enough to provide the necessary competencies and perspectives to perform the work, yet small enough to maintain efficient coordination and meaningful involvement of each member (Mc Shane & Von Glinow, 2010). Ideal team size therefore is very subjective, both to the task at hand and the organization. The teams at the plant are small, at thirteen and fourteen. One of the key characteristics of successful SDTs is that the teams should complete an entire task (Silverman & Propst, 1996). To break down further would probably result in teams that are not completing entire tasks.

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3.3.4. Boundaries of Team Responsibilities

The goal for the Corpus Christi plant was that the teams would take control over their day to day activities. Winslow reported that 80% of the decisions about the work on the factory floor are made by the teams, as opposed to 100% being made by the coordinators a few years ago. This was a major improvement. Winslow has indicated that most of the teams have taken ownership of quality improvements and safety issues and this also an indication of empowerment. However, the teams also want control over the amount of overtime they work

and when they work and Winslow indicated that he felt that „production goals, pay and benefits are out of bounds for team decisions‟. Though pay and benefits may be questionable, the

setting of production goals should become part of the team‟s responsibility. It is well established that employees are highly motivated to perform when specific goals are established and feedback on progress is offered (Goal-setting theory) and when a team participates in the setting of their own goals, there will be much more ownership and buy in to the goal.

3.3.5. Performance Based Award/Incentive Plan

When the SDT was first conceptualized, Amasi wanted to pay a premium to the workers, but this was not sanctioned by the union so no incentive program was implemented. Team members are now complaining about not being adequately rewarded for their extra effort. This can result in demotivation in the workforce.

3.3.6. Productivity on the Night Shift.

Winslow reports that the third shift does not make its production targets. Additionally, this shift also has the highest absenteeism rate. The third shift is the 11 pm to 7 am shift, which

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traditionally is a difficult shift to work due to the body‟s natural circadian rhythms. When

compared to the other Wolfe plants, this trend of higher absenteeism appears to be typical. It would be useful to dialogue more with the night shift workers to dig deeper into the issue. Workers on the night shift are possible showing signs of de-motivation. It is well established that working night shifts becomes more difficult as one age and increases the potential for more errors1. This could further compound the demotivation.

3.3.7. Other Morale Indicators

Selected worker quotes highlighted two positive and two negative comments. The positive comments related to the „less boring‟ work and the enjoyment of work. However, the two negative comments spoke to lack of incentive for extra work and the lack of empowerment for decision making. The lack of morale is also exhibited in the 5% turnover across the facility, 60% participation on teams, and the fact that 7 factory floor workers were actually fired due to poor performance. The data suggest that SDTs have not totally gelled at the facility and the teams are not properly developed. 60% participation means that 40% of the workers are not participating. Motivation therefore is likely to be low.

3.4. Recommendations for Improvements

The main issues identified at the facility relate to three main areas: Employee Empowerment, Motivation and Work Force Management. Essentially, empowerment and motivation go hand

1 American College of Emergency Physicians. 2001.

Circadian Rhythms and Shift

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in hand in an SDT and the work force must be managed in such a way as to promote these factors.

3.4.1. Understanding the Journey of the Self-Directed Team

As was described in Section 2.1, the journey to becoming self-directed is not a short one and Amasi and Winslow must recognize this, recognize where the company is on the journey and foster the culture that would promote the organisational change towards becoming self-directed.

3.4.2. Management Commitment to SDT

The management team needs to relook its commitment to the self-directed approach and commit to the goals and objectives of the SDT concept. Key to the self-directed approach is empowerment of employees and if this empowerment is compromised in any way, then the success of the SDT is compromised.

Management must create and foster a culture of motivation and empowerment by allowing the team to participate in the actual job design, organizational goal setting, performance appraisals and incentives. Information from other facilities where SDTs have been successfully implemented could be a key resource. Management should also keep up to date on the studies and reports out of the industry in the field of organizational behaviour so as to find new ways of improving employee motivation and empowerment.

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3.4.3. Feedback Gathering

Information by way of feedback from the coordinators and teammates need to be sought to understand the problems with the self-directed teams. The issues identified previously should be discussed with the coordinators first, so that the problem can be conceptualized, then the issues can be taken to the teams with some possible solutions and let the teams participate in finding the solutions to the issues raised. These discussions would glean valuable information on possible solutions. This aspect of feedback should be part of a larger system of open communication across the organization which is critical for continuous improvement and ensures adaptability.

3.4.4. Training

There should be continuous training and development for the various line operators and technicians for them to fulfill the cross functional roles required (technical training), be effective team members (interpersonal, team development training, conflict management, etc.) and to allow them to effectively self-manage (administrative, basic management training, decision making training, etc.). Key also would be the leadership training required for the coordinators to equip them with the tools and resources required for them to fully evolve from the directing role through the coaching and supporting roles, towards the ideal delegating role, which supports the SDT model.

3.4.5. Employee Empowerment & Motivation

Empowerment and motivation are key to the SDT model. Empowerment is about making people feel valued through involvement throughout the process, giving them the authority to

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make decisions, continually providing tool and resources (by way of training and support), and praising them when they do well. Motivation is a desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior. Motivation, ability, and environmental factors (i.e. having the tools and resources) are the factors that contribute to performance. Both

motivation and empowerment speak to an employee‟s will and personal drive to do a job. It

cannot be forced, it is not truly taught. It is nurtured and grown, like the concept of the SDT. Management‟s role is to provide the environment and the organizational culture that supports the motivated and empowered employee. Winslow and Amasi should consider the following methods of improving both employee motivation and empowerment at the Corpus Christi plant.

Motivating employees through SMART goal setting

Amasi and Winslow set a goal for 95% design capacity. Based on the average Wolfe plant, this would be a production increase of around 40%, which is on the upper limit of the reports Wolfe had seen at other facilities. This is a very aggressive goal and goal-setting theory is one of the most influential and practical theories of motivation. Goals give direction, tell employees what to focus on, energize, provides a challenge and urges employees to think outside the box. Effective goals should be difficult, not easy. People with difficult goals tend to outperform those with easier goals as easy goals do not provide a challenge. Aggressive goals require people to work harder or smarter and performance tends to be dramatically higher. However, while goals should be aggressive and difficult, they should also be realistic. If a goal is viewed as impossible to reach, it will not have any motivational value and can in fact be demotivating. The goal of 95% should be therefore be re-assessed. It might be more prudent

to adopt a more realistic shorter term goal which would seem more within the reach of the

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workforce and provide the impetus for increased morale. Overtime, this goal can be re-adjusted as the SDTs evolve. Further to the longer term organizational goals, the teams should be involved in the setting of the plant short term production goals. This would improve the sense of ownership in the target as they would be taking part in a critical aspect of the process.

Motivating employees through performance incentives

One of the most widespread ways of putting motivation theories into action is by implementing an incentive system. One of the most successfully implemented incentive system is the pay for performance incentive system whereby pay is tied to team performance. Research shows that companies using pay-for-performance systems actually achieve higher productivity, profits, and customer service (Bauer & Erdogan, 2009). The studies also report higher levels of pay satisfaction under these systems. In selecting an appropriate system, management should also consider the downsides of incentives such as the creation of risk-aversed environment that diminish creativity (which can happen if employees are rewarded for doing things in a certain way, and risk taking can have negative impacts on their pay checks) or the need for strong safety and quality systems and cultures to counteract the potential for short cuts to meet production goals. However, despite their limitations, financial incentives are powerful motivators if used properly and if aligned with companywide objectives.

Motivating employees through a performance appraisal system.

When employees have goals, they tend to be more motivated if they also receive feedback about their progress, they can better meet their goals. The performance appraisal can be

effective in providing constructive feedback to the employee, which can be quite effective in

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motivating employees and resolving performance problems. Reinforcement theory, which indicates that behavior that is rewarded is repeated, supports the use of performance appraisals being tied to reward decisions. However, performance appraisal ratings need to be accurate. Research has shown three characteristics that increase the perception that they are fair: allowing adequate notice (whereby employees understand the system and how it works), fair hearing (ensuring two way communication during the process), and judgment based on evidence (documenting performance problems and using factual evidence). Because of the lack of trust in the appraisal system, communication would be critical in the selection and implementation of the system. It would be prudent to involve the coordinators and team members in this process so that all team members fully understand the benefit of the system and how it can be used to improve their performance.

Other recommendations for increasing motivation, empowerment, teamwork, camaraderie and pride in the company

Consideration should be given to the payment of a shift differential for the night shift, in light of the inherent challenges of night work.

Implement a programme to solicit new ideas out of the teammates and encourage teammates to be champions of their ideas so as to create ownership from the conceptual phase through to completion. Successfully implemented projects should then be routinely highlighted via a monthly newsletter circulated to all teammates so that all everyone can see their teammates‟ ideas come to fruition.

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Increase awareness of all employees (production and administrative) of production rates and targets via team meetings, reports, information boards, emails etc., so that teammates know on a shift basis what the production rates are. If teammates are constantly aware of the rate the plant is producing, they would be aware when the rates do not meet the targets which would create an increased sense of urgency to bring the plant back to targeted rates.

Provide a mechanism for receiving feedback from employees on recommendations for improvements in any area of the company. This does not have to be production related and should be anonymous. Make a commitment to action on at least one of the recommendations on a routine basis and let the suggestions for the action on the issue come from other team members.

Schedule team building exercises for the teams as well as the entire facility to increase team work across the facility.

Implement a safety poster programme across the site using photographs of employees and their families. This puts a familiar face on a safety message and has the combined effect of communicating the safety message together with making the working experience more personal.

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Sponsor a community outreach programmes and ask for volunteers to aid in the effort. These types of activities tend to build the pride an employee has in the organization and also fosters team work and camaraderie.

Schedule a family day for team members to meet each other‟s families so as to build camaraderie among the teammates.

These ideas should be developed and then put to the teams so that they can determine the best

implementation strategy.

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4.1. The Case for Unionized Workers

Although it has been proven that SDTs increase performance it has also been shown that such an improvement is predicated on the culture of the organization implementing the SDT model. This observation is the foundation of the persuasive case we recommend that Amasi makes to the unionized workers at other Wolfe plants. The following are the steps we recommended he takes:

Meet with Unions Face to Face.

Meet with the Unionized workers in conjunction with the appeased Union representative.

Create implementation plan.

Meeting with Unions Face to Face – The “Ethos. Pathos. Logos.” Approach

Since the Union is the advocate of the workers at the other Wolfe plants, Amasi should first take a page from Aristotle and make a face to face appeal to the Unions before approaching the workers directly. In these meetings he should share the successes at the Corpus Christi plant with direct correlation to increased productivity (Logos), make an emotional appeal to the Unions based on the team based awards systems that SDTs implement (Pathos) and use the credibility he brings to the table as instrumental coach of the Corpus Christi plant of the last 3

years. Amasi‟s appeal should be aimed at value congruence between the existing union

empowerment versus the proposed team member empowerment and play on the fact that it will

ultimately make the Union‟s job easier.

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Amasi should focus on the following advantages of SDTs and use example from Corpus Christ as evidence:

Organizational effectiveness

An organization is able to achieve its vision and mission more effectively with SDTs depending on the job complexity assigned to the team. In the Corpus Christi plant it has proven invaluable. “A self- directed team is also a cross- functional work group, consisting of employees from various departments of the organization. As each of them has their own area of expertise, the team is able to make better decisions and, produce quality ideas and solutions to generate innovative products or services” (Roper & Phillips 2007; McShane, Olekalns and Travaglione 2010).

Employee Decision Making

At the Corpus Christi plant, up to 80% of the decisions were made by SDTs, this vertical shift in power would allow unionized workers to become responsible for a part of the organizational success they would feel a greater sense of belonging and motivation. “Self- directed teams can help maintain democracy in organizations and at the same time keep employees motivated”

(Robbins, Millet & Waters-Marsh 2004).

Employee Motivation through Empowerment

The empowerment SDTs foster causes manufacturing outputs to improve while performance is optimized as also evidenced at Corpus Christi. McShane, Olekalns & Travaglione (2010) mention that „autonomy allows employees to respond more quickly and effectively to client and stakeholder demands”.

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Increased Reward Systems

Since SDTs rewards systems will vary from plant to plant the Unions could be employed to monitor incentives given to teams and gauge the effectiveness of implementation. It can be mentioned that this was one of the areas of weakness observed at Corpus Christi as such, employing the unions in this way could address incentive issues before they arise namely, the incentives for extra work and rewards that correlate with good decision making. Once Amasi has achieved success at this level he should meet with the unionized workers in conjunction with the appeased Union as a sign of solidarity.

4.3. Meeting with Unionized Workers

The meeting with the unionized workers at the other plants would benefit the objectives of the implementation of SDTs in these external areas. Immediately after the meeting with the unions, a series of meetings with the workers would help to reinforce the initiatives agreed upon. This would allow for a smooth transition into SDTs if they understand that the union is supportive of the move.

In addition, it would also offer management the opportunity to explain the benefits of SDTs to the other units in a bid to get deeper buy-in in a shorter time. A strong impact would also be made if coordinators and strong opinion leaders from Corpus Christi participated in these meetings and assisted in conducting training in establishing the new teams.. This would offer the avenue for employees at the other Wolfe plants to relate directly with other employees from Corpus Christi who have gone through the same process successfully.

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4.4. Create Implementation Plan and Timeline

Implementing the SDT process would require a staggered process over five years with an

agreed evaluation process with the Union.


Time line

Establish SDT teams and coordinators

6 months

Define team work strategy using the SDT model, to address the

To implement within


the first year

· Individual, team, and organizational goals

· Short-term and long-term objectives for all

· Alignment and commitment of all employees

· Timeline and accountability for deliverables.

· Methods for evaluations, compensation, and rewards


Celebration of achieving milestones.


Flow of feedback



· Creating a positive, comfortable environment in which to


Conduct quarterly meetings with Union to review progress in first year

Every 3 months

then every six months thereafter

Celebrate achievement and profit sharing /incentive agreements



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While SDTs have proven to be an effective tool for improving productivity and staff morale, there are several areas that need to be assessed at Corpus Christi, prior to the implementation of such a structure at the two other facilities. While productivity has increased at Corpus Christi, there remain some areas that require attention in order to achieve the high objectives set by the RL Wolfe management. The refining process would require time, dedication and full management commitment to SDTs. This refining process usually takes more time than the initial process of setting up such teams.

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