Here’s how United Biscuits readied their workforce as they shifted from a largely manual packaging operation to a highly automated one at the Carlisle, England, plant where McVitie’s Ginger Nut biscuits are made and packaged.
The key idea was to create three integrated teams of nine people each. Each team operates one of three shifts five days a week.
Before assigning people to teams, their technical skills, their understanding of food hygiene, and their potential for grasping shared maintenance techniques were all carefully considered.
“Another key question we asked,” says employee development advisor Richard Morris, “was how do people operate within a team? Through self-perception exercises, we had people evaluate themselves, and once we had a sense of how they operate in a team, we tried to group varied behavioral types on each of our three teams, so that each team would have a balance of personality types.”
“The goal was to build teams that were self-managed and receptive to shared maintenance strategies,” says John Cheshire, engineering training coordinator. “It’s part of an effort to break down barriers between production and maintenance. In fact, team members were selected partly for their ability to undertake tasks that are normally viewed as maintenance tasks. These tasks may seem minor, yet they can have a marked effect on the overall performance of the line itself.”
Once the teams were assembled, they underwent a team-building program that included four days of kayaking, hiking, and general-purpose bonding in England’s scenic Lake District. There was even a trip to Switzerland to see the new packaging equipment being built.
“We wanted the teams to have a good working relationship as soon as the new line started up without having to wait for that relationship to build over a series of months,” says project engineer Peter Scott.
The program was so successful that United Brands is implementing it as other new manufacturing and packaging operations come online.