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4 Tips to Help Build a Manufacturing Team From Scratch

August 25, 2015

manufacturing-workersBuilding a workplace team from scratch can be a daunting task regardless of what industry you’re in. There are a variety of considerations that must be made when assembling a new team: skill sets, experience, leadership, the list goes. Manufacturing settings can pose a particularly tough challenge due to the wide variety of backgrounds, types of positions, and differences in training. Despite the unique difficulties that putting together a brand new manufacturing team can present, there are several steps that can help make the process easier.

Here are the top four steps to help you build a great manufacturing team:

1) Start with the end in mind

This simple but often overlooked step can make all of the difference in the world in terms of having a successful manufacturing team. Having a detailed (but flexible) plan can provide a vision for what you’re looking to end up with, as well as help avoid potential obstacles and roadblocks along the way. This plan can set the foundation for the team, and incorporate details such as the number of individuals on the team, areas of expertise, leadership roles, and job responsibilities. Going in blind limits your ability to find the right people, ask the right questions, and make sure the team is going to work effectively overall.

2) Define (and select) the competencies needed for success

Being able to define exactly what competencies your team members will need in order to fill their roles ties directly into the previous step. Starting off knowing the necessary competencies helps mold the staffing plan and inform not only what skill sets you’ll need, but also the number of individuals needed for the team. Some of the most common competencies seen across the manufacturing sector include safety orientation, teamwork, work pace, quality focus, and process monitoring.

If this is an existing position, you can determine the right competencies by talking with, or surveying, incumbents on the job. Talking with their supervisors will also help you gain an understanding of what is important for success. If it's a new position, involve the key stakeholders in the conversation. You may also want to review job descriptions of similar jobs to get a better understanding of what key competencies others look for.

Once you have a solid grasp on the skills and competencies necessary for success on the job, it is important to incorporate some form of assessment or screening process to account for these competencies. Is one competency more able to be learned on the job? Or is it a skill more easily found in the available workforce? These questions lead directly to…

3) Training vs. talent

Once you have a rough idea of what competencies and positions you’ll need on the team, an important consideration to make is whether you’ll want to hire relatively inexperienced individuals and then train them on the job, or hire seasoned individuals that already possess the competencies you require. This decision will rely on a variety of factors, such as whether or not the jobs these individuals are performing are so specialized that on the job training will be necessary no matter what. It can be expensive to hire highly experienced manufacturing professionals, so training an individual early in their career might be more cost effective. However, if the team is needed to begin work on a project right away, there may not be time to train them as extensively as would be needed. These are all important factors to weigh when considering whether you should be training vs. hiring experienced talent.

4) Set clear expectations

Being appropriately transparent is an important skill to have in any business setting, but when developing a brand new manufacturing team, the way in which expectations are set can truly make or break the group. This recommendation applies not only to the individuals on the team, but the stakeholders in the team itself. Before the first email or phone call is made to a potential new team member, any and all stakeholders relevant to the new team should be made aware of exactly what the purpose of the team is, how they will be involved, and what the expectations moving forward will be from them. This will help minimize inappropriate interference from them, as well as solidify your role as the manager of the project.

In addition, setting clear expectations with the members on the team is one of the most crucial first steps to include. In any setting in which a group of strangers comes together to achieve a goal, there will always be some form of inherent tension or conflict as the new team feels each other out and gets to know one another. Being transparent and clear with them all up front will help establish roles and responsibilities, which will help decrease future instances of conflict amongst the group. Letting each team member know what you expect from them can help set the team up for success down the road.


Building a manufacturing team, especially from scratch, is not an easy endeavor. It can be easy to fall victim to one of the many missteps during the process, but keeping in mind these four key considerations can help set up a solid foundation from which a successful manufacturing team can be built.

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Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg was an I/O Psychologist with PSI living and working in Chicago, IL.