Monday, November 4, 2013

Group dynamics, peer pressure, time study and welding.

Early in my working life, I spent time as a spot welder in a small hometown factory.  My Dad worked there, and I assumed it would be my job for life.  It's what people did in those days.

Through the ensuing years, I worked hard on my education.  It always seemed there was a gap between all the 'book learning' and the 'real world'.  But when I view my early experience through the lense of time and theory, some things became very clear.  

An episode from that welding job stands out to this day as an example of the power of invisible, yet very real group dynamics.

In those days, we had someone named a Time Study guy.  He was not well liked by the workers on the shop floor.    He knew it, they knew it.  He was a member of what we call 'the outgroup', also known as "those people who are not like us."  He wore a short sleeve white shirt and black tie.  The rest of us wore overalls and we were covered with grease.  We did real work; he did not.

The Time Study guy's role was to get the most work out of us; our job was to hinder his role.  Here's why: When he set a 'piece rate' we could make time and a half if we could make double the parts he said we could make, based on his calculations.  Time and a half is a lot of money to a factory worker.  We were motivated.

But there's always a guy who is a showoff.   And he paid the group dynamics price for his shenanigans.  One day the Time Study guy came down to watch a new work process.   As always, the rest of us stood around (peer and group pressure) to watch the job.  The goal of the person being studied was to do the work at a reasonable rate, not to show off.  One guy had different plans.

He worked as fast as he could during the time study, ostensibly showing off for the Time Study guy.  He set a rate that few, if any, could achieve, much less make time and a half.  The group watched him, and when the rate was set, the older guys said "that's your job from here on out."   You see, they knew they couldn't hit piece rate, and his showoff tactics had earned him the right to do the same repetitive job until he quit.

Teams, groups, and individuals act in their interest and in the common interest (when it suits them).  To betray the group is to risk being ostracized, and that's exactly what happened to the hot shot. 

Those episodes shaped my life, and while I've earned a PhD, my blue collar roots were extremely powerful in shaping my assessment of people and organizations.

The link below takes you to a few more things I learned in the shop! 

Doing White Collar Work the Blue Collar Way

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