BOX 4.2 Teams and Customer Interactions at Corning, Inc. (Batt, 1997)
Corning, Inc., and the AFGWU [American Flint Glass Workers Union] undertook a joint plant redesign at General Machine Shop [GMS], a supplier of machined parts for Corning's consumer and television tube production plants. The 1992 redesign replaced prior functional departments with product-oriented groups (serving consumer, lighting, and TV products), and within those groups, teams dedicated to producing parts for particular customer plants (e.g., Pressware, Martinsburg, and Greenville plants). The "real change" according to machinists, was ". . . the team-focus on the customer and their product." In the past, customers complained that no one at the plant would even answer their calls. This was due in large part to functional specialization.
Under the team-based system, teams are responsible for end-to-end production—from providing quotes to customers for jobs to arranging for materials from suppliers to interfacing directly with the customer during design and production phases to meeting delivery dates. Because workers are now organized into product-focused teams, customers can directly contact team members on the floor to get updates on the production process and to collaborate over product design and cost. Now, GMS machinists go back and forth on designs and specifications with customers, who also supply the cast iron mold and the blueprint; the machinists also go back and forth with their engineers as needed until they "get it right." The machinists are also more heavily involved in training the workers in customer plants on the new equipment provided by GMS. In addition, each team also has its own annual budget for tools and supplies; whereas in the past, the supervisor had to sign a materials purchase order, machinists now purchase anything under $200. They go to trade shows and interact with equipment suppliers to purchase new equipment. Teams also absorb traditional personnel tasks of scheduling, arranging vacations, and determining overtime.