Open communication is a hallmark of the 300 employees in the plants of Super Sack Manufacturing Corp., a producer of bulk containers, in Fannin County, Tex. Production workers are organized into self-directed work teams dedicated to specific customers. Team members meet customers when they visit the plant, or they may travel to the customer's location to learn about product usage and gain an understanding of emergency situations that may arise.

"Teams are mature enough to see the business perspective and take ownership for their work," says Nancy Cline, director of quality. "Production teams communicate directly with customers, and we encourage them. Team members initiated more than 30 letters to customers last year. We address, stamp, and mail the letters without changing them." A management cover letter is occasionally added to reinforce the company's commitment to the customer.

"One letter explained why an order was late--the production team wanted to give the information firsthand. Another team, whose orders were slim because the customer was going through a transition, wrote to ask if there was anything they could do help with the transition. Many of the letters included suggestions that would make the team's work easier, increase productivity, and thus produce cost savings for the customer."

"Customer response to the letters has been 'wow,' " says Cline. "A letter from a production team is surprising because people are used to management-to-management communications. Cross-level communication shows customers that teams are buying into the plan and are dedicated to the customer."