ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

January 1998


Have Faith In Your Future
Popcorn Discusses Consumer Trends, Effects on Business

Success Comes From Breaking New Ground - Not Plowing The Old

Taking It To The Public
Business Community Works With School Leaders to Turn a District Around

A Marriage Of Convenience
Unions, Management Team Up to Counter Takeover, Redesign Organization

The Baldrige Award: Winning Isn't Everything, Improving Is

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face


Caring About Place
by Peter Block

People Powered Organizations
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


A Marriage of Convenience
Unions, Management Team Up to Counter Takeover, Redesign Organization

"We were treated like mushrooms. Fed manure and kept in the dark."
The words of Dave Trozzo, union local president for the Owens Corning Santa Clara, Calif. plant, paint a vivid picture of past union-management relations. But since its opening in 1949 many things have changed at the plant, including the relationship between management and the union workforce.

The introduction of self directed work teams into the organizational structure of the plant spearheaded system-wide change that saw improvements in morale, decision making, job satisfaction and productivity. These bottom-line results have been met with cheers throughout the plant, a major producer of fiberglass and insulation.

Good Thing It Wasn't a Popularity Contest
Few were cheering when the process of implementing self directed work teams began. Both union members and management had deep rooted perceptions of self directed work teams, and to make matters worse, the Santa Clara plant was in the process of countering a hostile takeover attempt.

Jim Myers, training coordinator, recalls comments that were overheard regarding self directed work teams - "Union leaders working with management to implement work teams...impossible," and "TQM and self directed work teams are just new ways to break the union."
However, lack of popularity for self directed work teams was the least of the plant's problems. To counter a takeover, reengineering efforts had slashed employment and productivity by 50 percent. Owens Corning Santa Clara was hemorrhaging employees in an effort to stay alive.

"The only difference between this place and the Titanic," Trozzo recalled, "was that the Titanic had booze and a band." So Trozzo began exploring options. Attending business conferences Trozzo met others who had improved manufacturing plants through the use of self directed teams. The idea seemed like a lifesaver capable of turning around a plant that had strived for over three decades operating with a top-down hierarchy.

"I had nothing to loose," Tozzo says, referring to the concept of self directed teams. "We had already lost half of our workforce. I was going for anything to help the workers." Soon, Trozzo wasn't alone. Other union leaders, Myers and Mark Westman soon embraced the idea and the push for self directed work teams was on.
So the move was on. The offspring of a takeover counter would prove to be the new backbone of the organization, changing the structure and the culture. While the results proved favorable, the transformation was more complicated than any had imagined.

All Aboard! Training, Training and a Little More Training.
Employees soon began attending training sessions and business conferences to grasp the skills and knowledge necessary to transform a top-down, pyramid-structured organization into a team-based operation where accountability, responsibility and decision making moved to the lower levels. With any massive change effort it did require a substantial time and dollar investment.

"We spent more than we could have imagined," Myers stated. To help the change effort external consultants were brought in and the butterfly began to break out of its cocoon. In 1990 a steering team experimented further with self directed teams and 1991 saw the introduction of a pilot team in the plant's warehouse. Then the snowball gained momentum. By 1993 two more departments were running self directed teams and in 1997 work teams were operating plant-wide on every shift.

But What Were the Results?
Workers in the plant are now handling duties that were formerly reserved for management. Employees set and hold meetings, perform payroll, handle vacation scheduling and training, and conduct accident investigations.

Employees began forming long-term ties to their jobs. With this new long-term perspective, plant policies were easier to implement and gained the support of the whole plant, not just management. With all this system-wide long term interest in the organization, the Santa Clara plant developed a long-term future.

Still, as with any union-management relationship, conflicts arise. But an atmosphere of empowerment helps with conflict resolution. "An atmosphere of respect and trust works out these conflicts quicker and better," Trozzo says.

So after thwarting a takeover attempt, then deciding to introduce a new organizational culture and then investing a significant dollar and time investment, the Owens Corning Santa Clara Plant has persevered. The plant now boasts increased decision making and productivity - the results of an unusual relationship between a union and management.

January '98 News for a Change | Email Editor


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