Cooperative Decision Making

What happened at Marland?

Not long after Marland Mold’s employee buyout, the company needed to upgrade its CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) machinery to further improve productivity. Before the plant was employee-owned, middle managers were traditionally responsible for research and decision making regarding machine purchases. People out on the shop floor would have to figure out how to work with the machines.

Instead of taking the traditional approach, Marland’s leadership chose a participatory one. It created a committee of managers and hourly employees to lead the research and decisionmaking. Committee members were given all relevant data regarding the company’s current CNC and related machinery including its capabilities and relationship to overall productivity and profitability. The Committee attended area tool shows to see the equipment in action and interviewed sales engineers to determine the strengths and weaknesses of all the relevant machines. The moldmakers on the Committee took their responsibility seriously.

New to decisionmaking of this kind, they were thorough and exhaustive in their work. They solicited input from everyone, even newly-hired apprentice moldmakers.

The process to make a decision took much longer than it had before but as Engineering Manager Tom Seddon noted, getting people together “and throwing things around, you come up with ideas you wouldn’t have thought about.”

Over time, as learning improved, the company streamlined the cooperative equipment buying process so that instead of taking 6 months to choose a new piece of equipment, it took closer to 6 weeks.

What are others doing or have done?

When Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation (SRC) had a safety problem, they cooperatively created a team-building solution:

“The plant has such a bad safety record, we had to do something fast… We organized a safety committee and set a goal of 100,000 hours without an accident. We put up four-foot high scorekeeping thermometers all over the place, and we filled them in every two thousand hours we advanced closer to the goal. As the weeks went by, the drama began to build. On the afternoon when we hit the goal, we closed the plant down for a beer bust. We played the theme song from Rocky over the pc address system while the members of the safety committee marched around, handing out fire extinguishers. There was a parade of forklift trucks decorated in crepe paper. People stood around and cheered.” (Jack Stack, The Great Game of Business, p. 45)

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