Collaboration at OEM’s Works With All Managerial Levels

But what’s standing in its way?

By: Jim Mayer


Attention CEO’s and all managers as well….Collaboration can no longer be dismissed as a touchy-feely buzzword.  If so, the results have been buzzing around for years and the Japanese got a jump on the U.S. in the auto industry during the 1970’s using the derivative processes of collaboration to facilitate Kanban and Kaizen, commonplace today.  Smaller manufacturing organizations are finding one of the greatest contributors to fault-free manufacturing & fulfillment, improved gross margins, enhanced communications, enterprise-wide is to do away with the politics of departmental “silos” and foster collaboration at all levels, top-to-bottom.

Silos you ask….what are silos….politics gone awry or what?  The phrase “silo effect” has become popular in business and especially in manufacturing during the late 20th century. It commonly refers to a lack of open communication and common goals between departments in an organization. This “silo effect” got its name from the farm storage silo. In it, each silo is designated for one grain or specific product. To a manufacturing executive, a lack of communication and “silo thinking” causes departmental breakdowns and a lack of free-flowing ideas from other departments. (See: Internal Silos Harm Vendor Collaborationshttp://bit.ly/OXi7P6).

Facilitating Collaboration

According to research and best business practices (See: http://bit.ly/10x1Kx5) several factors often facilitate collaboration in business:

  • Enhancing communications, often using internal digital communications like chat, in-office message boards, interactive online meetings, internal news blogs, Twitter, and top-to-bottom exchange of ideas in town hall type meetings.  Numerous stand alone information applications exist, some an outgrowth of existing enterprise MRP systems, business production tools (Microsoft Office 365) and many integrate smart phones and pads for the mobile and connected. But it also comes down to departmental groups interacting with one another toward shared goals and responsibilities management buy-in.
  • Cultural changes begin at the top, starting with the antiquated notion that the CEO, division president, owner or partner communicates only with it direct management team. In fact, one need not do more than a quick overview of the most well known tech companies to see the best performers are those in which the discreet chain of command has been scrapped for synchronous chain of information and data contributors throughout the enterprise.  But to do this requires incentives (including financial….as in cash bounties for meaningful transformative changes as well other recognition) and executive open mindedness that fosters communication, not fear of the gatekeepers tending various departmental silos.
  • Empowerment is a “cousin” of approval…. that individuals and teams make decisions in the open, which again points to enhanced communications with management buy-in in organizational structures that are more horizontal than vertical by design. Leaders foster a no-hold’s barred environment to communicate. Visualize a company discussion group (as a blog) where posters can offer opinions without fear of retribution given upfront rules of engagement. Think of a discussion group that builds on initial concepts or conditions precedent with input from every level of a smaller OEM’s human resources.
    • In Bloomberg Businessweek, Evan Rosen emphasizes every worker contributes knowledge to the business. Using an example of the not-so-small Dow Chemical, he writes, “The day’s sales and inventory numbers are shared with everybody in the company, including the people doing the heaving lifting on the front lines. Dow acknowledges that people will do a better job when they know their actions contribute or detract from business results."

The Takeaway

Collaboration…the ability to work together especially in business is raising key concerns for organizations taking on new approaches to improve performance and outcomes.  Because leaders are looking for positive signs that acquiring collaboration tools will impact the bottom line, an organization may also need to consider its communication and collaboration practices.

A progressive manager….whether the chief operating officer or the senior engineer of an OEM needs to come to terms with transformational collaboration. The era of the silo mentality when decisions are isolated between teams; communication is limited, the culture is guarded and closed; empowering teams to share intelligence across multiple departmental barriers will become commonplace in the foreseeable future. As results and margins are eroded, the excuse of geopolitical events and foreign competition will ring less true than the lack of collaboration within OEM’s that otherwise quicken the pace of adaption and transformative change that have been watchwords of our most successful tech industries and the principles of which are spreading globally.

About the author

Jim Mayer has spent more than 30 years of advising, managing and directing smaller businesses as a consultant and operational manager. He is a director at M-Wave International, LLC (www.mwav.com) – a Value-added Supplier of assemblies and custom products located in Itasca, Illinois. He can be contacted at: jmayer@mwav.com.

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