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Work Group Behaviour in A New Zealand Factory

The following is adapted from McLennan and Liew (1980)

The site chosen for the research consisted of the ‘water removing’ section of the factory, which was part of its processed cheese-making operation. The task of the employees working in the section was to remove 7-kg blocks of cheese from a battery of vats, place them on a conveyor, squeeze water and chemicals out of them by rollers, and stack them in a cold room. Unloading the vats and cold room stacking was heavy, repetitive work; watching the conveyor and the rollers required steady observation, and occasional bursts of physical activity.

The five male employees in the section worked within a relatively confined space. They ranged in age from 18 to 25, four of them being between 18 and 22. Four had left school after two years of secondary education; one was a university dropout. All of them were single, except the 25 year old, and had worked in the section for a year or more.

A foreman was formally responsible for the work of the section and three other sections in the processed cheese department. He appeared in the section only once a day, and spent nearly all his time elsewhere. The factory manager showed the flag in [walked around] most sections of the factory twice a day. Low wages were paid to the workers, and there was no incentive scheme.

Interaction between the workers was easy, partly because of the low noise level, their proximity, their similarity on demographic variables, and the absence of supervisors. There were strong opportunities to sanction [give permission or approval for] one another’s behaviour. The workers operated a system of job rotation by which each member worked two days on each job in the section. The origins of this practice were unknown. They spent much of the day talking to each other about girls, sex, pool and drinking. One of them said that if they did not talk a lot they would ‘go insane or quit’. Another said that ‘If you were to keep dumb the whole day, by the time you finished … you’d really be buggered off’. They interacted very little with other workers in the factory, and were united in a strong dislike of them. The other workers were typically at least ten years older.

The group usually helped other workers when they were in trouble with their tasks. In addition, a ‘mind your own business’ attitude developed, a worker should not help another unless asked to do so. The group restricted their expenditure of energy on the section’s work. They handled five vat loads of cheese each day, even when a larger number awaited their attention. They anticipated work breaks by knocking off work ten minutes before lunch, and for morning and afternoon ‘smokos’, walked away from the section together, and sat together in the canteen. They manipulated the time they arrived at work by fiddling with the time-clock, and rested, read and smoked in the cold room. Smoking in work areas of the factory was against the rules. To protect the group from their supervisors they operated an early warning system to let them know when a supervisor approached. Members were posted on rotation as sentries, and sang loudly when a supervisor appeared. The group also observed norms concerning their off-job behaviour. They went frequently to a particular pub at lunch time, and gathered there in the evenings and at weekends. At the pub they drank, talked, and played pool. The group made up the factory’s pool team in a local competition. The work group coextended to the leisure group and vice-versa.


  1. Describe the norms that appear to exist in this group.
  2. Explain why these norms arose.
  3. Discuss how useful these norms are for: a member, the group, the factory.
  4. Discuss how cohesive this group is and who benefits or loses from this level of cohesiveness.
  5. What advice would you give to improve performance of the ‘water removing’ department?

You have to choose two topics of interest to you from the following and write a reflection essay 1,000 words;

  1. Motivation at work
  2. Organisational Culture and Power
  3. Job design and goal setting
  4. Leadership

In your essay you must outline why you identified this as a topic of interest to you In your studies of organisational behaviour.

Identify why this is important from and organisational behaviour point of view and how the chosen topic can influence organisational structure.

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