Freedom vs Control - case study of 2 Nike factories in Mexico

MIT's Richard Locke researched 2 Nike tshirt factories in Mexico.

These two factories have many similarities - both are in Mexico, both are in the apparel industry, both produce more or less the same products for Nike (and other brands) and both are subject to the same code of conduct.

Plant 1 gave workers complete freedom to decide production targets, team organization and managing production plants and schedule. Employees work in teams and are also responsible for routine maintenance of equipment. Jobs are rotated and they value knowing how to perform a variety of operations and claimed that this opportunity to work on several operations plus in teams significantly improved working conditions. Every morning, the supervisors communicate to each team the style and quantity of products they need to produce. The workers would get together and discuss amongst themselves how much they can actually produce and then meet with the supervisor and agree on the production target for the day. Tthe opportunity to participate in decisions related to work process had a strong and positive effect on work climate

Plant 2 was a tightly controlled unit with set rules and workers assigned fixed jobs and responsibilities. Workers are in fixed, individual stations, are specialized in narrowly defined jobs, which is routinized and repetitive and thus perform the same operation over the whole year. The workers were also not motivated to acquire new skills or perform a variety of operations. The production orders are communicated from the top of the plant’s hierarchy and there is no place for worker participation. The plant manager plans production and distributes the orders to the area supervisors.

The research showed that Plant 1 was more productive churning out 150 tshirts a day compared to Plant 2 which was producing 120 Tshirts a day

Read the entire research here


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