Strength in Numbers

TMMMS kaizens its National Public Lands Day event and more than 500 team members pitch in to help

October 10, 2017

Answering the Call -- TMMMS asked for volunteers to help work at Tombigbee State Park on NPLD and all of these people showed up.

When you do the same thing at the same time for 19 straight years — such as Toyota’s corporate sponsorship of National Public Lands Day — you might think there’s nothing new to learn.
But Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi is challenging that notion. In a very big way.
For this year’s NPLD, held on September 30, TMMMS put out a call to its 2,000 full-time and variable workforce team members to help spruce up Tombigbee State Park, a woodland refuge that surrounds the 90-acre Lake Lee about 20 miles east of the plant. The event was one of more than 30 organized by Toyota as part of the country’s largest single-day volunteer effort for public lands.
But here’s the thing: More than 500 of TMMMS’ people showed up.
Bright and early.
On a Saturday.
How is that even possible?
“We kaizen-ed it,” says Kathryn Ragsdale, TMMMS external affairs manager. “In the past, we’ve taken on projects that required team members to drive an hour or more each way. Once there, they had to do a lot of heavy duty manual labor. Not surprisingly, turnout was a bit scarce. So, in recent years, we’ve looked for ways to increase turnout.”

Signing In -- Toyota volunteers pause to admire their handiwork: a new park sign designed by one of their own.

In Dire Need of Restoration
The seeds for this success were planted three years ago when TMMMS officials first paid Tombigbee a visit.
“It looked like nothing had been done to improve the park in quite some time,” says Sean McCarthy, TMMMS environmental specialist. “It was in dire need of restoration.”
The plant agreed to commit $250,000 over five years to help kick start the park’s revival. And it leveraged Toyota’s longstanding NPLD tradition to tap into the time, talent and elbow grease of its team member volunteers to maximize the impact of those funds.
In the first two years of the partnership, team members renovated facilities and brought to life a new T-ball field complete with backstop, team benches and bleachers. They dubbed it Corolla Field.

Making Camp -- Two team members stain a tent platform, one of several tasks aimed at refurbishing the park's campsites.

This year, John Paul Blaylock, a group leader in Paint Kaizen, designed and headed a team of volunteers who created a new primitive campsite and — for each of the existing three sites —
installed posts for hammocks, built a fire pit and grille and added benches as well as a swing and tent platform.
Meanwhile, Phillip Williams, a specialist in Facilities, managed teams that built a sand volleyball court, replaced a rusted-out basketball goal and restriped the adjoining asphalt, and swapped out a faded 1970s era park sign for a new one designed by one of Williams’ project leaders.
And while that was going on, other team members stained 15 picnic tables purchased by TMMMS.
To ensure they could pull it all off, McCarthy says a smaller team of about 50 team members spent time at the park during the week leading up to NPLD. Their mission was to ensure all of the work sites could take full advantage of the big influx of labor on the big day.
“There’s no way we could just show up that morning and get everything ready for 500 people to do meaningful work,” he says. “We’ve tried to do that in the past and have ended up needing to return the following week to finish the job. We didn’t want to have to do that.”

Party Atmosphere -- TMMMS team members celebrate their hard work with an all-hands picnic lunch, complete with DJ and raffle prizes.

A Chance to Socialize
Here’s another secret to TMMMS’ success: NPLD is no longer just about digging in the dirt; it’s now also an opportunity for team members and their family members to socialize with one another.
So, once the volunteers finished their chores, they were invited to partake in a catered lunch, play a little basketball or volleyball, listen to music being spun by a DJ and check their free raffle tickets for a chance to win a prize, such as bicycles, fitness watches and camping gear. At minimum, everyone who participated received a red Toyota T-shirt.
Oh, and unlike past years, children were definitely welcome. While their parents worked, the kids took part in relay races, hula hoop contests, face painting and other carnival-like activities. In addition, the Wyland Mobile Learning Experience was on hand to teach the next generation about water conservation.
Simply put, NPLD is about much more than one day in 365. For TMMMS, it’s a mindset that continues to make a difference throughout the year.
“It all boils down to the leadership of the company,” says Ragsdale. “It’s very clear to all of us that — for our management team — this is a priority.  So it’s a priority for all of us, too.”
By Dan Miller

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