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It may look like a photo from a school play, but it’s not. This is the team from JCI’s plant in Slovakia. Their innovative presentation proved actions speak louder than words.

File this picture under “Quick Learners.” The team from Korea made its first Team Rally appearance in 2003, and walked away with the prizes for Best Presentation and as the team that best exemplified the Team Rally vision—even if one team member couldn’t “C” straight.

Lights! Camera! Quality!

At Johnson Controls’ annual Team Rally, acting skills are nearly as important as the ability to explain Six Sigma.

From the doorway of the Grand Republic Ballroom in Disney World’s Contemporary Hotel it’s beginning to look like a prelude to a soccer riot. A small group of revelers is jumping up and down in a circle rhythmically chanting “Mexico! Mexico!,” while directly opposite a similarly sized group of Koreans are banging their pebble-filled “thunder sticks” together. Men, women and children mill about with refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, taking in the displays of national pride as a strangely quiet group of participants from St. Joseph, Missouri, move through the crowd with electronic nametags that spell out their names and the name of their team in scrolling letters. The atmosphere in the room is as electric as the St. Joseph team’s badges, yet no one in this friendly sea of humanity has moved from excited to rowdy. It’s almost impossible to believe this is the result of a nearly 1- year-old program introduced to increase participation in the roll-out and adoption of the Johnson Controls Manufacturing System (JCMS).

The Back Story
“We had monthly plant manager forums when we introduced JCMS,” says Jerry Beaubien, a vice president and general manager at JCI and a Team Rally founder, “but we needed more volunteers within the plants and buy-in from the employees to take it across-the-board quickly.” Pricing and quality pressures from automakers were taking their toll, and putting the plants on edge. Acquisitions were bringing new plants from outside JCI into the fold. Implementing JCMS, it was thought, would alleviate some of the pressure, and provide a base from which further gains could be made while placing every plant on the same quality footing. Only no one was in a hurry to adopt this new way of doing things. That’s when Beaubien and his team came up with an idea that offered plants an opportunity to celebrate their successes in implementing JCMS, and share their knowledge with others. The team doing the best job of communicating their knowledge of the JCMS tools, accounting for the annual savings, and sharing their knowledge would receive a modest trophy. “The whole thing was local at first, with a total of eight teams participating,” says Beaubien, “but the demand came from the plants to do more, and from the company to expand the concept.” (The Team Rally is “sponsored” by the Johnson Controls Leadership Institute.) Soon the competition was moving through the plants from seating to interiors to batteries (home of the electronic name tags), and then through the entire JCI Automotive Group. “From there it went global,” he says. In 2003, 144 teams participated in 15 semifinal competitions in 10 countries. The 15 finalists represented 11 countries. The finals are held each year at Disney World.

The Rationale
When asked about the costs associated with the Team Rally, Chuck Harvey, JCI’s group vice president of Human Resources–Worldwide, dismisses any concerns with a quick cost/benefit analysis. “We’ve studied this event thoroughly,” he states, “and–relative to the per-plant savings and the multiplier effect when these ideas are rolled out to other areas–the Team Rally is very affordable. It’s part of the training budgets in Human Resources, at each plant and elsewhere throughout the organization, and we work hard to protect it when times are tough.” The reason goes beyond each team’s projected annual savings (for finalists, it’s often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars), and back to the original reason for the program. Says Bob Ellis, vice president and senior executive, Johnson Controls Leadership Institute, Automotive Group–Worldwide, “Team Rally lets the plants show how they’ve learned to use the quality tools, and lets the leadership team see just how effectively they have taught them those tools.”

The Effects
Judging from how quickly new tools are brought into play–including things like statistical analysis of work flow, and determining Six Sigma statistical values by comparing the base with the proposed state–this is happening more quickly than expected. “We started by doing things like teaching them the skills to keep a clean, orderly plant–basic low-hanging fruit stuff–and have progressed in a very short time to some pretty sophisticated examples of high-level statistical analysis,” says Ellis. Reaching this level of understanding has taken an approach that centers on the needs and abilities of the end-user, and requires a robust support system. “To be most efficient,” Ellis begins, “you must simplify the rules. Which means you have to make it so the team members understand the training, and are encouraged to apply the tools and processes to solve problems in their areas.” Paul Lambert, JCI’s vice president of Quality and Quality Systems, North America, agrees with Ellis’s assessment and adds: “This program supports a back-to-basics approach to the business we’re really in–manufacturing,” says Lambert. “Money is made and lost on the shop floor.”

Not surprisingly, the electric atmosphere spilled over into the next day’s presentations (see below), as the finalists put their skills on display. Says Vicki Niebrugge, Leadership Development & Learning at JCI: “It’s no different than what we find on the shop floor. The results come down to the tools you give your people, how you train them, and what you expect in return.”

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In So Many Words

How do you communicate your knowledge of quality tools when not everybody in the room speaks your language? Do you use the translators and headsets provided? Or do you try to communicate without words? For the teams from France, Slovakia, and Korea, actions spoke louder–and clearer–than words. True, the French team created their own English-language “Wicked Witch” video to accompany a Snow White-like skit outlining their projected two-year, $1.14-million savings, but that was the extent of the “speaking.” (The Strasbourg team won the award for the most valuable project.) The Korean team outlined how they raised production for Hyundai from 160 seat sets/day to 176 with 0 ppm for 21 consecutive months, and saved a total of $104,165 while beating on drums, balancing physical comedy with drama, and speaking a few words of English in their high-energy skit. (They took awards for best presentation and for best exemplifying the Team Rally vision. It was their first time at the event.) But the personal favorite was the Slovakian team, who brought the house down with a gardening analogy in which no words were spoken. Their reconfiguration of the cutting process at their seating plant allowed them to claim total savings of $726,805 in 2003. As with the Koreans, their presentation received a standing ovation from the other teams.

Under different circumstances, the Team Rally could easily degenerate into either a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland parody, or a dull “Future Enterpriser’s” awards banquet like the one in the movie Risky Business. However, one reason that isn’t likely to happen, according to Ken Grezlik, Quality director at JCI Leadership Institute, is that information on improving quality isn’t the only knowledge making its way around the globe. “If one team does something that’s effective,” he says, “the others latch onto it and find a way to adapt it to their needs.” Obviously, there is more than one way to share best practices.