For 18 years, Jerry Hammond had been a spot welder for Steelcase office furniture without even knowing the people in nearby departments who worked on the same products. Today, working in Steelcase's 1991 Best Plants award-winning Context Division in Kentwood, Hammond is part of a team that decides how it will run its part of the Casegoods factory (one of four units) in the Context plant.
The plant was built in 1990 at a cost of $90 million. Its new environment dramatically changed conditions for Hammond and his co-workers. "I worked with these people [in another plant] for 18 years," says Hammond, "but never knew them. Now I talk to them all the time because assembly, trim, paint, and weld, are all on the same team."
Steelcase management wanted workers and managers at Context to be one team and insisted there be no barriers between whitecollar and bluecollar workers.
Whenever the plant made an equipment purchase, teams were brought in to make the buying decisions.
There are 41 self-directed production work teams and four support work teams that tackle day-to-day problems, and 14 teams that deal with specific product or assembly areas, as well as more complex plant-wide issues. And workers are cross-trained, as time permits, during regular working hours.
Technological improvements include an automated laminate line that has reduced the time needed to turn a piece of particle-board into a desktop from 20 hours to 30 minutes. Such efficiencies enable Steelcase to turn raw materials into finished goods, for the most part, in three days compared to three weeks.