CASE STUDY The Problem with Teamwork

Mike Garcia and Jill Hendrickson have been butting heads for months. Mike is a manufacturing manager at Auto Safety Products, a firm in the Midwest that designs and produces automobile seat belts and infant and child safety seats. Jill is a design engineer for the same firm. Recently, top management at Auto Safety Products instituted “concurrent engineering,” a team-based system that integrates manufacturing and design processes. Concurrent engineering is intended to eliminate the problems that often occur in industry when designers are unaware of the needs of manufacturing and vice versa. Through concurrent engineering, management hopes to improve attention to all elements of the product life cycle and manufacture a quality, low-cost product that will meet user needs. The company is also hoping to decrease the amount of time it takes to move from initial conceptual design to actual production. Mike and Jill are both on the team working on toddler booster seats. This is an important product for Auto Safety Products, as research has indicated that parents do not use safety seats once children reach toddler age, in part because they are difficult to use in cars and uncomfortable for children. As a result, many parents don’t use the booster seats correctly, cancelling out any safety benefit. Thus, the team at Auto Safety Products is working to make the seats easier for parents to use by making them more comfortable, more portable, and more compatible with a range of automobiles—from small sports cars to sedans to minivans to SUVs. Mike is fifty-five years old and has worked in manufacturing for most of his life—twenty-two years with Auto Safety Products. He has always felt some animosity toward the design side of the firm. He finds the engineers uppity and unwilling to listen to the problems faced in manufacturing. He has often complained that the design department generates pie-in-the-sky projects that run into all sorts of practical problems once they hit manufacturing. He approached the new concurrent engineering program at Auto Safety Products with a grain of salt. He thought that it was a good idea in principle (“Those guys in design could use a dose of reality”), but he was not convinced that it would ever work in actuality. Jill is a twenty-five-year-old mechanical engineer who has been with Auto Safety Products since her college graduation three years ago. She is assertive and strong-minded—she believes she has to be to be effective in the male-dominated world of engineering. She learned about the concurrent engineering concept when she was in school and believes it can greatly improve the effectiveness of design and manufacturing. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be working at Auto Safety Products. The manufacturing side has not really bought into the process, and management did not take the time to introduce the team management system properly and train people to work together. Even though she tries to be open to the ideas of manufacturing, she does not feel this effort is being reciprocated. Her concerns go in one ear and out the other. She is having an especially hard time with Mike Garcia, the lead manufacturing representative on her team. Recently, the two of them have had to work together frequently on a booster seat design problem, trying to adapt the design so it will work in a variety of minivans. Their inability to work together has gotten so bad that their supervisor has set up a meeting to help them deal with the problem. Adam Shapiro is a project supervisor at Auto Safety Products. He oversees the booster seat project team that Mike and Jill work on. He knows the two of them have not hit it off on the concurrent engineering team and has decided that the conflict has gotten to the point where he must step in and help them settle it. He first asked each of them separately about the problem. According to Jill, the problem is that Mike will not listen to her ideas and downplays the contributions that design can make to concurrent engineering. In contrast, she sees design as the most important part of the concurrent engineering process. She suspects that Mike has problems with her because she is young and a woman, and this has made her push even harder for her point of view on project disagreements. According to Mike, the concurrent engineering system—and the booster seat team in particular—is a joke. He says that the design engineers are still trying to push their ideas down manufacturing’s throat, and he’s tired of the “team” facade. He would like to go back to doing things the old way. However, if he is forced to continue with the concurrent engineering system, he refuses to simply give in to every one of Jill’s whims. As Adam ponders these divergent positions, Jill and Mike enter his office. Neither of them looks particularly happy. CASE ANALYSIS QUESTIONS 1.What kind of predispositions are Mike and Jill taking into this conflict situation? How might these predispositions influence the way they frame the conflict and the way they approach each other? 2.If Mike and Jill were to attempt to deal with this conflict on their own, what conflict style would you recommend? Given what you know about Jill and Mike, do you think they would use an effective conflict resolution style? 3.If you were Adam, how would you approach this conflict? What strategies should you use to help Mike and Jill deal with their ongoing problems? Would you consider bringing in a mediator to help them work through their issues? 4.How would a feminist approach to conflict see this situation? Is it possible to use an alternative model that would recast this situation in a more productive frame? After reading the case study, The Problem with Teamwork, you are assigned to write a 1-2 page MLA formatted, double-spaced, 12 pt font (Times New Roman or Calibri only) critique of the case study based on what you have learned from Chapter 9. Using the case analysis questions as a guide, provide a compelling solution to the posed situation.

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