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Outstanding Quality Using Team Management

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The most valuable asset any company has is its people.   You can have the best equipment, best technology and best processes but without the people they mean nothing.  It is the combination of these things and people that make quality truly outstanding. Through establishing a team culture in your metalcasting facility,  it is possible to instill great pride in products and return to the early craftsman model when employees are treated as a valuable resource instead of another commodity.   Value your associates, provide them the resources to succeed and you will produce outstanding results.

Good team management is a blend of human resources and practices to ensure outstanding quality for your customers, one that’s incredibly valuable for metalcasters.

Team Management as a Way of Life
To transition to a team culture, a company has to make a decision to change philosophy and actions. All areas of the company have to choose to move in this direction. This does not mean there are no rules or objectives; it means each area needs to have clear objectives for its operation.

To effectively develop and maintain a team philosophy, a radical change in traditional systems must occur. Top management must be a part of the change and fully support it.
Communication is the key to implementing and maintaining teams. Your company has to be willing to share all types of information, including financial results, so teams feel they can have an impact on the company’s overall performance.  

Names of job positions must be changed from employee to something like associates, supervisor to coach.  External titles like Chief Operating Officer and Chief Executive Officer are maintained but internally they should be called advisory associates or leaders of their work area.   

An emphasis on training and communication will help alleviate fear.  Training supervisors to be coaches and teachers is critical. In many ways, their performance is more important than ever. If the coach does not buy into the team philosophy, the team may fail.

Develop an environment of trust by eliminating time clocks.  Allow employees to enter their time on a computer system and trust them to enter work hours accurately. Empower teams to have full control of their work area and work toward self-direction.  The supervisor does not set hours and scheduling, the team does this work.

Ditch piecework systems and implement a gain-sharing program. Piecework focuses on the individual performance, not the team. When team members share in gains from their performance, it fosters an all-for-one, one-for-all environment.

Develop compensation systems to pay for team performance.  Some examples are profit sharing, quality performance bonuses, and skilled wage programs.  Allow team members to train for all positions in a work area.  This will help associates improve their skills, reduce boredom and monotony and help them understand other positions besides their own.  Pay for knowledge and skills, not longevity.  Every associate should have equal chances to make it to the top of their wage range based on their performance. The performance evaluation process is critical to team management. Perform 360-degree evaluations so input is obtained from the associates that you work with and work for, and the next person down the line. Also make sure that quality, safety, and team interaction are included in evaluation criteria.
Allow teams to make decisions about the hiring process. Team members should be included in the interviewing process and part of final selection.  Hiring for positions in a team culture can be time consuming because many people possess good technical skills but do not have the skills to perform and excel in a team environment.  But investment and input in the hiring process will help foster the culture as all will have input into the final decision.

Each work team or cross functional team should have its own purpose statement and team expectations. The following are examples of some general expectations of a team member:
Agrees on the team’s expected outcome.

Clearly committed to the team’s goals and understands why he or she is on the team.
Accepts assigned responsibilities and commits to help with whatever actions need to be take in order to secure team success

Has respect for others, does not have a hidden agenda for fellow members, and agrees to freely share opinions and ask questions.

Provides access to whatever information the team requires when it is needed in order to accomplish the team’s objective.

Builds and maintains trust with other members in order to achieve the team’s purpose.
Feels he or she can make a difference with his or her contribution.
Supports decisions made by the team. It’s also important for management to accept these decisions.

Manages internal team conflict effectively to produce a win-win outcome.
Maintains a dual focus of both team process and anticipated outcomes.

Using Teams to Improve Quality
As the human resources transformation is taking place to improve a metalcasting facility, a quality value will begin to develop. By using the strengths of the associates that run the process every day, quality will improve.  Give the team the ability to shut down the process when it is not meeting quality specifications. Teach them the tools to use problem solving methods to determine the best source of action. The coach can be a resource but ultimately this is the team’s decision. Shutdown will happen less frequently as teams begin to use problem solving and continuous improvement to enhance the process early.

Train the teams on the customer’s expectations. Too many associates focus only on their immediate work area. Train them on the entire process from the time the order is placed to the time it is delivered. Outstanding quality is delivering consistent product that meets or exceeds the customers’ expectations.  

Companies should provide resources to the teams for data collection and use simple straightforward methods to look at trends so all can understand the data.  A graph or picture can tell the story far better than assumptions about the process. It is important to abandon testing and data that no one looks at or is using.  Every piece of data collected should be used to evaluate the process, improve the process, or report to the customer.  
The Role of Quality Standards

Standards such as ISO 9001:2008 and TS 16959 can play an important role in the development of outstanding quality. These standards are guidelines for a quality system, and if they are implemented as a business system and a way of life, they are great continuous improvement tools. In many companies, these standards  also are implemented as a program separate from business functions. In reality these standards affect every area of the business from sales to final shipment and customer satisfaction. They are a set of tools associates can use to improve the quality system.   Every audit is an opportunity for associates to show their knowledge and utilize the auditor’s suggestions as continuous improvement activities. To fully implement these systems it takes a champion to promote and keep things on task.   
Though all areas of the standards apply, five areas will be discussed here: corrective action, preventive action, continuous improvement, internal auditing and management review.
A good corrective action system will address and prevent problems from occurring again.  When an issue occurs it is important to determine what type of action is necessary.  A good example is to have coaches use the team members to solve the issues rather than trying to solve them themselves.  

Preventive action is defined as an action that prevents poor quality that has not happened yet.  Using techniques like Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) can help determine preventive actions. The focus for preventive actions is to avoid creating nonconformance, and commonly includes improvements in efficiency.  

Continuous improvement is an action to improve something that has happened already.  It is an ongoing effort to improve products, processes and services. One way to document continuous improvement is to put it as an agenda item at the end of every meeting.
Internal auditing is the strength of any auditing system.  However, many companies use internal auditing as a police action by one or two people from the quality department. All associates should be given an opportunity to train and qualify as internal auditors.
“Management review” can be done in a team environment, but modifications to the traditional review meeting are essential.  

The Negatives of Team
What about the coach that doesn’t know how or is unwilling to let team members get involved? The only thing that can be done is more training and constant assurance their job is not threatened. If the individual cannot accept this and starts to sabotage the team efforts they may have to be let go.   

Another potential drawback is the length of time it can take to make decisions when many people need to be consulted.  There are ways to help this.  As stated previously, only use the teams to make decisions they have true control over.  This applies to work process teams and cross functional teams.  If a team is formed to make a decision on buying a piece of equipment, they do not need to re-engineer the entire process.  A strong facilitator must keep the team on task so it does not scope creep. Be cautious of hidden agendas. Sometimes members have a desire to cast off someone or make themselves look good. Facilitators training can help this.

Mistakes can and will occur.  If a mistake is simple and does not have critical consequences, it is better to show the team how to turn it into an opportunity.  
Some people do not fit within a team company.  They simply do not have the personality and the right attitude to work within a team. The hiring process can be long and tedious to find the right person.  A person can have the skills for the job but not the team or vice versa.  Patience and persistence will be needed to make sure the right person is hired.

Sometimes a person gains employment and may be able to work within the culture and then does things to undermine the team. Safety, quality, environmental and human resource policies must be maintained. When every effort has been made to retain the individual and there is still not the desired response, the associate may have to be terminated. This is perfectly acceptable within the culture.  Other associates will expect this from their coaches and leaders as they work to continuously improve the team and the business.

Outstanding quality is a value that many metalcasting facilities strive for but some are unwilling or unable to determine how to get there. It takes more than just developing a quality “program” it takes a conscious management decision to make team management a way of life using the tools provided by many experts through the years.   

This article was adapted from a speech delivered at the 2015 Metalcasting Congress in Columbus.

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