A mid-sized factory was faced with disappointing results. When looking for solutions, a number of other themes surfaced, such as a pigeonhole mentality and a strong focus on problems and impossibilities, instead of on solutions.
The production manager had a dream, which he summed up as 'everyone happy and engaged at work!' His idea behind this is that if people feel involved in their work, when they can do what they are good at, and work together smoothly, this will lead to better product quality. And, ultimately, to a healthier business. He wanted to initiate this development in his factory.
Our support for this process started with a question we asked the production manager himself: "When do you come to work happily and fully engaged?" The ensuing conversation was so meaningful to him that he wanted to repeat it with his seven managers. So we invited them, along with a few other key people, to explore the same question together.
This exchange helped us to determine those topics that were important to strengthen employee engagement in the factory: better cooperation, more appreciation and recognition, a strength-based approach to work and development, and better product quality. For each of these themes, the group defined a few key questions. They then went into the factory themselves to interview other employees on these questions.
This whole process in itself increased involvement and strengthened collaborative relationships: people got to know each other in a different way and found themselves in conversations different from their usual chats.
In the end, all eighty people on the production floor were asked the same questions. Based on the findings, we made small experimental groups to improve specific points. Such a group for instance practiced with a team hand-over to improve cooperation between teams, and they organized round table discussions about compliments and positive feedback.
Once the employees felt more engaged and involved by this process, they expressed a desire to increase their personal influence. That, in turn, sparked a step towards a new form of organization: the factory introduced self-organising work teams, who are responsible across different shifts for a joint task (assembling a high-quality product).
The action research led to concrete ideas for improvement. Furthermore, it immediately led to increased engagement and a greater sense of ownership by the workforce, as well as improved cooperation. People now talk to each other more and voice their appreciation for each other. Absenteeism has decreased significantly. Production levels as well as job satisfaction have increased. Five years after the start, these positive changes are still noticeable.