Milkshake Factory Case Study

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The story of George Stein exposes the dynamics that drive the night shift at Eastern Dairy’s milkshake factory. George was excited to join the dairy’s unionized workforce because its contributions-to-inducements balance was so favorable. As soon as he crossed the functional boundary into the organization, more specific features of George’s work group became apparent. First, there was no manager to speak of supervising the night shift. Second, horseplay was the workgroup norm, considered a natural and necessary complement to the hard work the team did every night. Although the management likely excused this as peripheral role behavior, it was relevant and desirable to the members of the night shift itself because it allowed them to cultivate camaraderie and maintain morale, giving them motivation to perform as well as participate. Management’s only expressed expectations were that the night shift complete the set of production orders they were given each night and that the equipment was spotlessly clean by 7 a.m. As long as these tasks were accomplished, the night shift was left to self-regulate. The night shift constitutes its own subculture within Eastern Dairy, and the special conditions that govern that workgroup make it discernibly different from the mainstream organizational culture. The absence of a formal manager to indoctrinate employees into organizational values such as quality management has allowed a different set of values and basic assumptions to emerge among the members of the night shift than might be held by the organization as a whole. For example, they share an implicit assumption that, where there is a conflict between workers’ best interests and quality control, the workers should win out. From a differentiation perspective, we can predict that the night shift’s internal consensus on this point is likely to be at odds with that of the managerial subculture.[1] If the company has the goal of total quality control, it has not taken the...
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