Unions and industrial improvement projects: Building a common momentum

  • Lars Harald Lied University of Agder


The purpose of this article is to define the potential role unions can play in a general quest for improved practice in an industrial company. Workplace innovation (WPI) is one example of such a measure. Lean is another. The article outlines important elements when implementing improvement tools like Workplace Innovation and Lean practice. The efforts are focused at company level, and experiences from a Norwegian industrial company highlight the areas of importance. The amplifying role a union can play in an improvement process is discussed, and motives and processes are clarified, in order to show the role of unions in a broader sense. The “Nordic” tradition of organising work-life frames the considerations made in this paper, but elements of experience can also be valuable in other work-life traditions. Practical improvement is the ultimate goal in an improvement project, and this article shows how unions can play an active part and amplify the results when it comes to enhancing organisational performance. Theories and experiences are supported by interviews with experienced leaders and employee representatives. Changes are often met with resistance, and the article shows that unions, under certain circumstances, can play a facilitative role when it comes to the implementation of improved practice. Joint motives provide a unique opportunity to succeed, and Workplace Innovation and other improvement measures can represent a “win – win” formula in that sense. A democratic and dialogical approach towards Work Life design contributes to both efficiency and stimulating workplaces through Workplace Innovation and Lean Management.