The Meaning of Teaming: Empowering New Hires at GE’s Welland Brilliant Factory

GE’s new Brilliant Factory in Welland is empowering workers with a collaborative style of participatory management called “teaming.”

The concept is simple. “The teams, rather than management, are the decision-makers,” explains Céline Ticknovich, Senior HR Business Partner supporting the Welland Brilliant Factory. “Management sets what the outcome is, and the teams decide how to get there.”

A proven model

The goal of teaming is to move authority as close as possible to the product, so that front-line operators hold the accountability for their team’s outcomes. For example, if there’s a production delay, it’s up to the teams to figure out how to solve it.

While other forms of participatory management have been around for decades, the approach remains relatively rare. Some studies suggest that only 3-5% of organizations use a version of this structure, despite the numerous advantages of an empowered workforce.   

GE understands the value of teaming from long experience. This horizontal style is already being used successfully by GE Aviation,  including at its engine blade manufacturing facility in Bromont, Quebec, where teaming has been paying dividends in terms of cost, efficiency, and workplace satisfaction since 1982. 

Multiply your problem-solvers

This approach makes sense if you focus solely on the outcomes, says Ticknovich. “It works because the people closest to the customers are empowered to innovate, improve how they work, and ensure the quality is there,” she explains.

Rather than miring down the decision-making process, teaming allows GE to multiply its problem-solvers. “If the numbers aren’t being met, it’s an entire workforce trying to problem-solve how to meet those numbers.”

Part of the teaming strategy is to ensure that each worker is fully skilled, so that everybody can do every job. Someone might spend one week in the paint shop, the next week machining, and then two weeks in assembly. Not only does this improve outcomes and ensure flexibility, but people are more intellectually engaged and they enjoy their jobs more.

The right people for the job

GE has hired the first 10 employees of an expected 200, and those new hires are already taking responsibility for defining how the teaming structure will work once the factory opens in 2018.

Teaming isn’t for everybody, and GE works hard to ensure that every employee is able to collaborate and participate. During the lengthy pre-screening and 8-hour interview process for new hires, Ticknovich and her colleagues look for some technical skills, but mostly they search for soft skills, like the ability to accept feedback and hold conversations respectfully. 

“Hiring people for the teaming process requires a lot of extra work,” says John Macaulay, the site leader at the Brilliant Factory in Welland. “The reason we decided to go through that effort in recruiting and training is because it pays off in the long run. Our teamwork is really about making sure that 200 people come to work every day with their hearts and minds focused on delivering for our customers.”

“It was one of the most intense hiring processes I’ve ever been through,” says Blair Ford, one of the new hires. “It brought out the best in me, trying to show what I can do.” 

In the end, the right people are those who want the responsibility, because they care about the outcome. “You can tell if they’ve got the customer at the heart of everything,” says Ticknovich. “That usually comes out.” 


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