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Tamarack Industries

By David J. Cherrington, Brigham Young


Tamarack Industries manufactures motorboats primarily used for water skiing. Students are hired during summer months to fill in for permanent employees on vacation. In past years, students worked alongside permanent employees, but a few staff complained that the students were inexperienced, slow, and arrogant. In general, permanent staff disliked the students' behavior, such as listening to music with earphones while working. This summer, the company reorganized all permanent employees into three production teams (they usually have four teams, but 25 percent are on vacation at any given time) and assigned the 16 summer students to their own team on the fourth production line.

The supervisor, Dan Jensen, decided to try a different strategy this summer and have all the college students work on the new line. He asked Mark Allen to supervise the new crew because Mark claimed that he knew everything about boats and could perform every job "with my eyes closed." Mark was happy to accept the new job and participated in selecting the student hires. Mark's crew was called "the Geek Team" because all the college students were savvy with computers, unlike most of the permanent employees.

Mark spent many hours training his student team to get the line running at full production. The college students learned quickly, and by the end of June their production rate was up to standard, with an error rate that was only slightly above normal. To simplify the learning process, Dan Jensen assigned the Geek Team long production runs that generally consisted of 30 to 40 identical units. Thus, the training period was shortened and errors were reduced. Shorter production runs were assigned to the experienced teams.

By the middle of July, a substantial rivalry had been created between the Geek Team and the older workers. At first, the rivalry was good-natured. But after a few weeks, the older workers became resentful of the remarks made by the college students. The Geek Team often met its production schedules, with time to spare at the end of the day for goofing around. It wasn't uncommon for someone from the Geek Team to go to another line pretending to look for materials just to make demeaning comments. The experienced workers resented having to perform all the shorter production runs and began to retaliate with sabotage. They would sneak over during breaks and hide tools, dent materials, install something crooked, and in other small ways do something that would slow production for the Geek Team.

Dan felt good about his decision to form a separate crew of college students, but when he heard reports of sabotage and rivalry, he became very concerned. Because of complaints from the experienced workers, Dan equalized the production so that all of the crews had similar production runs. The rivalry, however, did not stop. The Geek Team continued to finish early and flaunt their performance in front of the other crews.

One day, the Geek Team suspected that one of their assemblies was going to be sabotaged during the lunch break by one of the experienced crews. By skillful deception, they were able to substitute an assembly from the other experienced line for theirs. By the end of the lunch period, the Geek Team was laughing wildly because of their deception, while one experienced crew was very angry with the other one.

Dan Jensen decided that the situation had to be changed and announced that the job assignments between the different crews would be shuffled. The employees were told that when they appeared for work the next morning, the names of the workers assigned to each crew would be posted on the bulletin board. The announcement was not greeted with much enthusiasm, and Mark Allen decided to talk Dan out of his idea. Mark suspected that many of the college students would quit if their team was broken up.

 What are the major organizational behaviour issues involved in this case?

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