Making the most out of an employee argument
The last several months have been very challenging as we all deal with changes in our businesses because of the pandemic. When our stress levels are high, it’s harder to deal with problems in the same way that we would under “normal” circumstances. In this article, I’m sharing one change I made in my shop to turn a problem into an opportunity. 
Setting the stage: There was a conflict in the shop
Recently on our shop floor, a couple of employees got into a verbal argument over the quality of a couple of parts. The short version of the story is that instead of finding the root issue of what caused the problem, they just had their disagreement and walked away. 
One of the employees remade the part and went along with life until I heard about the disagreement a little while later. 
Turning a problem into an opportunity
I decided to stop the entire shop and gather the team to have a meeting right then and there. We talked about the issue that started the argument, and then we walked through the shop to investigate. We tracked the issue down to something simple that had gone awry with the part on a certain style of cabinet. 
It turned out to be a shop issue rather than an employee issue. The fix was simple, and because we drilled down to the root cause of it, it won’t happen again.
It was definitely satisfying to track down an issue in the shop and fix it. However, the more important thing that came out of the meeting was a team realization that problems are going to happen in any manufacturing environment, especially when you add a custom element to the work. It’s just going to be a part of the process. 
By acknowledging that, we also recognized that arguments are not the way to fix an issue. It doesn’t do anyone any good to fix the issue on just one cabinet when there’s a bigger underlying failure. We need to adjust the process that led to that error, or we’ll keep wasting time and causing unnecessary frustration among the team. 
Carrying the lesson forward
Every business is going to run into problems, but how you deal with them defines your company culture. Will you fall into the cycle of frustration, or will you view issues as opportunities to improve your shop’s processes and create new standards? Will you be proactive to ensure that the issues don’t keep cropping up, or will you waste your time playing whack-a-mole to temporarily take them off your plate? 
During our meeting, I gave each employee the opportunity to state one problem that they’ve had, no matter how minor it may be. We took the time to work through the issues as a team right then and there. Not every employee came up with a problem, but the majority of them did. In that one meeting, we took at least 10 problems or small issues and fixed them so that they don’t keep happening.
This process was so effective with my team that we’ve added it to our weekly meeting. I’ve carved out time to ask employees what issues they faced or fixed that week. We’re working to keep up with the process rather than getting frustrated and fixing an issue for just one piece. 
I’ll be honest, there’s a dollars and cents benefit to doing this. Less wasted time and materials mean more profit. But more importantly, my team is working together better and with less frustration. They’re empowered to make improvements in the shop and share their successes with others. In a phase of life that’s been very stressful and challenging, both personally and professionally for a lot of us, this camaraderie and peacefulness at work are essential. 
I’m curious to learn how others handle conflict in the shop and how you’ve turned problems into opportunities. If you have any strategies to share with other shops, please leave a comment below. 

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About the author
Jeff Finney

Jeff Finney is the founder of Ultimate Cabinet Components, based in Collinsville, Oklahoma; 918-371-7171. For more shop insights from Jeff, check out his articles at or listen to his podcasts at Jeff is also a 2018 Wood Industry 40 Under 40 honoree.