At Moncton's Molson Coors Brewery, team-sourcing ideas for policies and procedures is a recipe for engagement, and creates a culture of ownership and responsibility

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by Mireille E. LeBlanc

(This article is reprinted by permission from Progress Media)

Malted barley and water are carefully mixed, then boiled and fermented, with a few additional steps thrown in for good measure. Yeast and hops are introduced during the process, and the precious liquid flows from one gigantic tank into another in a mysterious and complex alchemy that, three weeks later, results in good old-fashioned beer.

Since 2007, the Molson Coors brewery in Moncton has been producing bottles and kegs of Coors and Canadian beer bound for the Maritime market. With a chemistry and electrical engineering background, Christine Lewis was first attracted by the benefits and competitive salary offered at the manufacturing plant. "But what brings me here week after week is my team," says Lewis, the company's sole female brewery technician.

Teamwork is taken seriously by all 16 brewery technicians, who vote on their work schedule, vacation policy, and rotation in the plant. For example, they collectively decided to work four consecutive 10-hour shifts a week so most of them can take Fridays off. "As a team, we also select who's going to be our next 'family' member," says Lewis, adding that if even one technician feels a candidate isn't right for a position, that candidate won't be considered further.

Flexibility and cross training allow the team members to learn several processes in the beer-making operation, and their multiple skills engage and challenge them. "We wear a lot of different hats," says brewery technician Andrew Friars. "This week I'm working in brewing, and last week I was in packaging. Next week I may be working in kegs. There's a lot of variety, and we don't get bored."

Friars, who has been with the Moncton brewery since it opened, is currently enrolled in the industrial mechanic apprenticeship program at the New Brunswick Community College. "Any training we want to take, we just have to ask for it," he says. He has also taken part in Molson Coors' Build the Bench, a leadership and people-development program, to help hone his project-management skills.

Employees are given plenty of decision-making leeway pertaining to their area of expertise in the plant. "If we want to redesign the layout on a line or a machine, we can make it happen," says Lewis. "We don't have to ask for permission; we just do it." Recently, she created an efficiency program that she called Switch Off for Saving, through which the plant's lights are turned off whenever possible to lower energy costs. "I just did it," she says. Another employee came up with a way to easily introduce an information card or voucher into the 12-pack beer cases during packaging; his innovation will soon be used by Molson Coors for a new marketing campaign targeting social media.

Lewis and Friars tout the company's policy of open discussions with management. Every three months, employees have candid discussions to air any problems that have arisen. "We talk about them and resolve them," says Lewis. Issues are brought back to management, who are expected to address them promptly. "We're held accountable, and we have to put our egos on check to be able to absorb the feedback," says brewery manager Tim Farley. "It's about management stepping back and saying, 'OK team, how can we support you?' " Recently the employees discussed their dislike of overtime and night shifts. To make extra hours more palatable, an account was created to allow overtime workers to order takeout food, while incentives such as hourly increases ?were offered to employees working the night shift.

But it's not all about meetings and professional development at Molson Coors—there's room for fun too, with various team-building activities such as Wii tournaments, Monte Carlo afternoons, or a few hours on the ice to play hockey or curl. "When people ask me who runs this place, I say the employees do," says Farley. "We have a very transparent management style. Employees have ownership, and we produce leaders, not followers."

That attitude is reinforced during weekly meetings that cover every aspect of work. Office walls are peppered with boards to measure the plant's progress in implementing the World Class Manufacturing Program that strives to improve every process. The boards monitor improvements in various areas, from teamwork and efficiency to the facility's hygiene and health and safety regulations.

The company is also active in its community. Every Friday a few employees help distribute meals with Red Cross members, and once a month Molson Coors volunteers drive around Moncton with the Mobile One bus to help distribute meals to those in need. A nearby food bank and the United Way also benefit from the brewery's goodwill. "Our team lives in this community," says Farley, "and we have a responsibility to help improve it."

The company's progressive nature has snagged it several accolades, including the New Brunswick Energy Efficiency Award for the small and medium industry sector in May. Internally, the Moncton team received Molson Coors' Best Performance in Health and Safety Award in 2008 and 2009, the 2009 Best Quality Award, the 2010 Most Improved in Quality Award, and the 2010 Best Quality and Best Safety Awards.

Grand achievements aside, some employees might say that the best perk of working at Molson Coors is the weekly voucher for a free case of beer and the access to the brewery's Eric Molson Hospitality Suite overlooking the brewhouse. "It's nice to go up to the hospitality room and have a beer after work," says Farley. "It's a great spot to decompress."