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The self-directed workforce: AIPC

What if packaging lines ran sans supervisors? For the answer, look no farther than the Tolleson, AZ, plant of Excelsior Springs, MO-based American Italian Pasta Co.

AIPC's plant director of operations Tim Lethcoe.
AIPC's plant director of operations Tim Lethcoe.

There, says plant director of operations Tim Lethcoe, "We don’t have managers or supervisors on the packaging lines. We’re modeled around self-directed work teams. The operators are responsible for manipulating the schedule, together as a team, so that they can maximize how efficiently the packaging lines accommodate the output of the upstream pasta presses." That includes setting up the distribution path the pasta must take and making sure individual machines in all eight packaging lines—three long goods, five short goods--are running smoothly.

Operator ownership

One obvious benefit of such an approach is the cost savings that comes when a layer of management is eliminated. But just as important, says Lethcoe, is the simple fact that operators in such an environment are more engaged and fulfilled. As Lethcoe puts it, "If I’m an operator in this arrangement, it makes me feel good about coming to work."

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