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Constantly improving processes requires information sharing between the office and the plant.

Production workers have a great deal of knowledge about daily operations, systems that work and things that need improvement. However, many are reluctant to approach managers. These techniques may help you open the door between the two groups.

Take time to ask questions and listen respectfully. Encourage managers to engage when an employee makes a suggestion or points out a problem. Remember to give the reason why the answer is "no" or "not now." If the issue takes more study, try teaming the employee with an engineer or specialist to investigate further. And, if the answer is yes, give the employee credit for raising the issue, which encourages others to get involved, too.

Learn workers' language and culture. Language differences are common on the shop floor. Managers should learn about - and respect - the culture of their employees, whether those workers speak Spanish, Vietnamese, Arabic or another language. A sincere effort to use the language, however clumsy, will also be appreciated. It may also help to identify translators among bilingual workers or managers. Posting notices and work documentation in commonly spoken languages will help eliminate confusion about safety and company policy, too.

Help workers build presentation skills. Many companies use large whiteboards to track daily metrics, problems, ideas and employee achievements at work cells and workstations. When managers make daily or weekly tours of the factory, encourage employees to take turns presenting this information. The opportunity for positive discussion builds workers' confidence in public speaking.

Practice teamwork. Team up office workers, shop floor employees and managers (if allowed under union contracts) to solve problems - and don't always make the manager the team leader. Working closely together as equals builds respect and facilitates conversation down the road. To break the ice, consider holding a training session on communication and listening skills.


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