Toyota Assembly Line

Teamwork: Lessons of Success in the Auto Industry Learned from Overseas

Toyota Assembly Line

Oh, what lessons we can learn from working together as a team and learning from each other.

Work Together, or Fail Together

Teamwork is essential for any business venture to operate efficiently. This principle is inclusive of athletics, engineering, and any professional or volunteer organization.

Players and/or workers may be talented, but if work ethic is poor, production diminishes, leading to a number of unwanted consequences”

  • Teams lose big
  • Businesses and organizations close their doors
  • People lose their livelihoods

Two major players in the automotive industry learned this lesson the hard way in the 1980’s through the year 2010. The New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), in Fremont, CA, closed its doors in 2010 after a history of producing over 6,000 vehicles per week, and nearly 8 million since the plant’s opening in 1984.

The Unlikely Collaboration of Competitors

NUMMI was a collaboration of General Motors (GM) and Toyota.  

  • The GM Company founded in 1908 by William C. Durant has produced manufacturers such as Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, and Oakland, now known as Pontiac.
  • Toyota was founded in Japan by Kiichiro Toyoda in 1937. The first passenger car, the Sedan AA was produced in 1936. Toyota now owns quality auto brands such as Lexus and Scion.
  • Both GM and Toyota have been known to produce quality vehicles over the years.

This has led to driver loyalty for both. Customers and car insurance comparisons (depending on driver age, and what model vehicle is purchased of course) may establish a case for quality cars, trucks and SUV’s from both companies.

Leveraging Strengths

As in most joint ventures, NUMMI was formed to help each auto producer take advantage of the other’s strengths. GM produced vehicles for customers who preferred smaller cars.

But GM cars were of poor quality, and many were money-losing ventures. Toyota produced quality vehicles.

However, U.S. restrictions on foreign imports facilitated the need for Toyota to start building its own factories in America. Needing someone to help acclimate the growing company with potential American buyers, Toyota reached out to the GM group in Fremont, CA.

Toyota Assembly Workers Teach GM Executives

The GM group in Fremont was one of the worst auto manufacturers in the U.S. There were a myriad of problems that would sink most companies quickly.

  • People would often not show up for work.
  • Alcohol was often consumed while employees worked on the assembly line.
  • Supervisors sometimes would not fix a problem in the production line for fear of getting fired.
  • Drugs and sexual promiscuity were rampant as well.
  • Employees felt free to do whatever they pleased at GM, due to the backing of union laws.

As a result, some vehicles came out of production with engines installed backwards, missing steering wheels, missing brakes, and other issues. Workers tried to fix the defective cars in the backyard of the plant. However, this often led to further vehicle damage. As a result, GM quality felt a sharp decline in the Fremont, CA plant.

The Toyota Secret Sauce

The Toyota model was vastly different than GM’s. GM employees were sent to Japan to see what was their “secret sauce.”

  • The Americans from CA witnessed the Japanese employees working as a team.
  • Toyota employees labored together in groups of four or five.
  • Teammates would sometimes change jobs with each other to keep the work experience fresh.
  • Supervisors would involve themselves if there was a problem workers couldn’t solve.  

The biggest difference that set the Toyota factory in Japan apart from its American counterpart is the attention to detail. Toyota had a system where a cord was pulled to summon management if a problem was taking too long to fix.

No problem appeared too small, even down to the smallest nut and bolt. No doubt, GM workers left the Toyota dealership impressed.

GM Learns Valuable Lessons at NUMMI’s Expense

Fired up from the trip to Japan, GM engaged with Toyota at the Fremont plant and NUMMI started production of cars in 1984. Ready to change the world, the NUMMI plant was an immediate success, as the plant started producing quality cars with very few defects.

The Japanese teamwork concept was paying off.

However, different GM plants were not accepting of NUMMI’s new business model. After years of growth in production, GM leaders gradually accepted the change and the NUMMI model became the standard at every GM plant by the early 2,000s.

GM never reached the standards of the Toyota makers, but the plant improvements were very evident. GM eventually went bankrupt in 2009. The recession was a large contributor to GM’s downfall. NUMMI closed its doors in 2010 as Toyota pulled out the previous year.

The Return of Auto Pride in America

The lessons from NUMMI taught American auto workers a valuable lesson.

Quality cars can be produced in the U.S. at every plant. But it takes teamwork.

When everyone is on the same page and egos are left at the door, competition will be strong from U.S. companies. Buyers of Buicks and other American cars, can now look forward quality vehicles in the future, thanks to lessons learned from our Japanese competitors.

Story adapted from This American Life.

Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership
, subscribe today!
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Robert Cordray

Robert Cordray is a freelance writer with over 20 years of business experience
He does the occasional business consult to help increase employee morale
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Web

Image Sources:

Golden Idol

On Breathing Life into Your Leadership

Golden Idol

Here is a bit of leadership wisdom:

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

Psalm 135 New International Version (NIV)

Transformational Leadership 

Transformational leadership is made up of 5 key elements:

  1. Inspirational Motivation
  2. Intellectual Stimulation
  3. Individual Consideration
  4. Idealized Influence (Attributes)
  5. Idealized Influence (Behaviors)

Being a Transformational Leader involves creating Inspirational Motivation; however, without Idealized Influence (one of the key elements of transformational leadership,) that inspiration is as empty as the silver and gold idols that have mouths, but no breath in their mouths.

Walking the Talk

As a leader, you need to “walk the talk”. This is really the essence of Idealized Influence (Behaviours). You must seek to not only inspire your team, but you must work to earn and build their respect and trust.

Interviews conducted by Moe, Pappas and Murray in 2007 on healthcare staff at the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) concluded that idealized influence, as part of the transformational leadership model, had a significant impact upon the positive attitudes and motivation of staff within KHCC. Idealized influence was highly recommended as a leadership methodology to be applied in globalized healthcare environments. 

If your actions, do not match your inspirational personae, you may in fact end up de-motivating your team. Use your eyes to see, and your ears to hear. As a leader in your organization, you have to give your team the support they need.

Listen to them. Watch them. Not just at performance review time, but day in and day out.

Sustaining Team Passions

Inspirational leaders may spend time in team building workshops, developing Team Charters which hang on the lunch room wall.

Creating a vision is crucial, don’t get me wrong, but just like the silver and gold idols, the Charters and Vision Statements may offer some inspiration for a brief period, but they will not be able to sustain your team’s passion.

The challenge to keep your team motivated will be even more difficult if you do not instill in your team the belief that you are committed to that vision, and that your every action is guided by the vision that you and your team have built together.

On Reciprocal Relationships

If you spend time developing your vision for your team, and showing them that it is your leadership compass, then you will inspire and engage your team.

Remember that Leaders and Followers have a reciprocal relationship.

You lead your followers, but they make you a leader by following. Your vision will ensure that your leadership is not just an empty idol. This will leave your followers empty, as well.

18 Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them.

If your leadership is built with Inspirational Motivation as well as Idealized Influence, it will have breath.

Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today here!
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Kevin Allardyce

Kevin Allardyce is Organizational Leadership Guy
He  recently received his Master’s Certificate in Organizational Leadership 
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Web | Blog

Image Sources:

Workplace Cultures

3 Key Elements to Engaging Work Cultures

Workplace Cultures

Today, millions of Americans went to a job they hate, to do a task they dread, for a company with a vision that was not conveyed clearly.

Luckily, I have discovered three critical keys to changing the work environment and improving team morale that ultimately increasing profits and productivity.

You may be thinking while you read this, “These principles will not work for my organization.”

Well please let me challenge you to open your thought process for a moment and consider these three key elements that will help you create an engaging work culture that helps improve your bottom-line results.

3 Key Elements to Engaging Work Cultures


As the CEO of an organization, regardless of size, financial background, or current status, it is your responsibility to clearly convey where you want your organization to go. Period.

Think about this: If you get in a taxi and do not tell the driver where you want to go, you will likely arrive at an unpleasant destination.

Clearly, as a leader, you must convey your goals, your vision, and your mission. Otherwise you will end up in an unpleasant place.


So, image this:

You are a sales manager, a project manager, a CEO, a pastor, or someone in a similar leadership position. And now you have a goal in mind. It is enough of a challenge for you to develop goals and to push our teams to the limits, but much more is required in order to be successful.

You have to now communicate an effective game plan that comes with the right road map so that everyone can understand where they are going and how they will get there.

Without the how to or the direction of how your team intends on arriving at a set goal, the whole enterprise will all be sorely disappointed.

Along with clearly explaining our vision to the team, board members, or investors, everyone will be lost.

In order to be a success, you must decide how you intend on achieving your vision. And you must be extremely effective on communicating this vision. For instance:

  • If you want to sell 100 more cars this quarter than last, you must convey exactly how you intend on doing it.
  • If you want to see an increase in profits of 10% this quarter, you also must have an effective plan in place for reaching that goal and get this information to everyone involved.

Communicating direction is critical to organizational success. Without it, you will find yourself in that unwelcome place where everyone involved feels disappointed, neglected, and mislead. So, do everyone a favor and provide that effective road map that keeps everyone moving in the same direction.


Communicating clear expectations is relevant to every member of your organization from the CEO to new hires. If you want the newest team member to take part in the process of achieving organizational success, create ways to effectively communicate your expectations in a clear, understandable way.

Leadership Fundamentals

These are not some ideas I have imagined or made up out of thin air. I have used each of these in reviving dying non-profit organizations, private businesses, and public sector organizations.

You can carry out each of these keys and begin changing the atmosphere of your organization, with little to no cost. In fact, implementing these keys will possibly be the greatest and most rewarding investment you have ever made into your organization.

So, how are you doing at developing, delivering, and instituting the right plans to help your team produce for best bottom-line results? What else would you add to these three key elements to help people succeed on your team’s mission? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Never miss an issue of Linked 2 Leadership, subscribe today.
Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Adam D.

J.A. Davis is the author of ‘Southern Distinctions; and host of ‘Consider This’
He is focused on Organizational Success and Leadership Development
Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Web | Book | Blog

Image Sources: