Self-Directed Work Teams Self directed work teams are defined as a small number of people with complementary skills, who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach, for which they hold themselves mutually accountable (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993). Collaborative self directed work teams can get complex projects done at faster rates than the traditional boss-worker arrangement, because the decision making process is made faster and more effective in a team. Empowering teams to make decisions about their work also enhances satisfaction and reduces turnover (Berger, 1998). Self directed work teams involve employees in a specific area, or those who are working on a specific product or process. Self directed work teams can be any size, but are generally not more than 12 to 15 employees. The work team makes the decisions that would normally be made by a supervisor or manager, and might interact with the companys suppliers and customers, whether they are inside or outside the company. In some companies, self-directed work teams will also take over many of the human resource functions as well (Cotton, 1993).
Self directed work teams have also become one of the more changing approaches to employee involvement, and has been increasing in popularity within the last several years. Companies such as Proctor & Gamble, Digital Equipment, General Mills, Federal Express and other well known companies, are reorganizing their employees into self directed work teams. In a recent survey, 476 Fortune 500 companies found that although only 7% of the work force is organized into self directed work teams, management at half of these companies said that they will be relying on them more in years ahead. (Cotton, 1993). Establishing Self-Directed Work Teams.
There are nine basic steps in establishing self-directed work teams. 1. Developing a shared vision, 2. Empowerment, 3. Training, 4. Presence of a supportive culture, 5. Developing performance expectations and feedback, 6. Establishing boundaries, 7.
Developing an appropriate pay system, 8. Constructing the appropriate physical layout of facilities (where applicable), and 9. Developing friendly union interaction. (Berger, 1998),(Cotton, 1993). 1.Developing a shared vision. A well-developed mission statement for the team is needed to provide for the direction of the teams work.
A common vision of leadership must be in place and has to be supportive by everyone in management, with a complete understanding of the concept of teams. Along with this vision, the entire organization has to thoroughly prepare itself to change its culture to support the teams. The change has to be done in a series of incremental steps so that everyone will understand the vision and the philosophy of the process. The reason for this is because employee attitudes are sometimes difficult to change, and it is important that they have an idea of what they will be going through and how it will affect the way they perform their jobs. 2.Empowerment.
The team has to have enough authority and decision-making power to accomplish its vision or mission. Management has become more visionary and supportive and less fixed on micro managing the team so that the team will be able function with less directing. 3.Training. An ongoing process of training is a necessity in order for the team to accomplish its goals, while enabling the team to work together efficiently. Team members also have to be trained in skills that allow them to function together as well. These skills include: A. Conflict management, B. Assertiveness, C.
Communication (listening to others in particular), D. Problem solving and E. Decision-making. While team members are going through the training process, it is also important that facilitators and supervisors work with the teams, and develop skills such as coaching and counseling that will help make the teams successful. 4. Presence of a supportive culture. Top management must be supportive and patient with themselves and with the members of the teams after the training process is complete.
It will take time for the teams and the Supervisors to get use to each other during the development of the skills they have just learned. This can sometimes take a lot of time, and management has to have patience and use other facilitators to enhance and stabilize and ongoing process of development. 5. Performance expectations and feedback. Performance expectations of the members of the team must be developed, so that each member of the team knows what is expected of them. In addition to the development of these expectations, a method to measure these expectations must be adopted, so management can monitor the teams performance and see what and how they are accomplishing their tasks.
A feedback method of the teams performance must also be developed, so that managers can give employees an idea of how they are doing, as well as making any necessary corrections and giving advice that they think are necessary. The only way that members of the team can fully develop and continuously improve is if they know where they stand in relation to the development standards. 6. The establishment of boundaries. Work rules, company policies and compensation for team members, are all examples of boundaries that must be established, in order for the team to know the way in which it will be allowed to operate, as well as knowing the limits to their empowerment. Teams should start with narrow boundaries, making only simple decisions until they become more comfortable with the decision making process. As the teams expertise becomes more prominent, they can expand their boundaries and take on more complex decision-making.
However, team members must bear in mind that decisions should only be made that affect their immediate team and not another team. 7. Developing a pay system. Ideally, the pay system of the organization should support and reinforce collective productivity by the workers, efforts at group maintenance, and the amount of responsibility taken by the workers. A seniority or job based pay system is not an effective system that should be used with self-directed work teams.
Most organizations that made the switch to self directed work teams changed their compensation system either to a team based performance system, a salary plus bonus pay system or a skilled based system. (Cotton, 1993). All three of the above system have advantages and disadvantages, but the team-based performance system is the best system to use with self directed work teams, because it promotes the growth and development of team spirit and cohesiveness. Despite this, a disadvantage to the team-based performance system is that it may be difficult to measure the performance of the team, since the team is only partially responsible for it’s performance. Another problem with the team-based performance system is that if the team is dependent on it’s slowest member for it’s overall performance (e.g., an assembly line), the team could put extreme pressure on that person which could disrupt the overall team’s performance. (Cotton, 1993).
A salary plus bonus system has the advantage that depending on how the bonus system is determined can be very easy to implement. However, individual and team bonuses can be difficult to assess, which might cause competition either within or between work teams. A simple solution to this problem would be to administer a facility wide or company wide bonus (e.g., profit sharing), which would be a much simpler and smoother method of paying team members. The salary plus bonus system also has a disadvantage, in that some team members may be uncertain or skeptical about this method of pay and may not show too much interest in it. The skilled-based compensation system is the most popular pay system, mainly because when all employees know how to do their jobs they are all paid the maximum amount.
In addition, the skilled-based compensation system is easy to calculate, motivates the team members to learn how to do additional jobs, and ensures job rotation and the involvement that is necessary for self directed work teams. The disadvantage to the skilled-based compensation is that it puts a lot of pressure on management to provide training and opportunities to adopt this compensation system. In addition, after about 10 years, many team members will have learned all the different jobs within the company while earning maximum pay; which might lead to lack of motivation on The job. (Cotton, 1993). 8 Physical Facilities. The physical layout of a companys facility is a very important issue that must be addressed when establishing self directed work teams. The primary consideration of this issue is the flow of work within the facilities of the company.
If a company decides to establish self-directed work teams in one of it’s new facilities, the workflow in that facility may be different than the workflow in one of its existing facilities (Cotton, 1993). To clarify this, consider the following example. General Motors decides it is going to establish self directed work teams in it’s new downtown Detroit assembly plant, that does not have long assembly lines but is instead closely grouped together around team work areas. The workflow in that plant, maybe different than the workflow of an existing assembly plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which does not operate with self, directed work teams. Transforming an existing plant that does not have self directed work teams, into one that does can be very expensive an impractical and can lead to lack of participation, cooperation and interest among managers and workers, causing the potential for more friction and elimination of jobs in the company. Companies who wish to use self directed work teams in it’s new an existing plants, are now establishing them in all of their plants, but they are not changing the work flow, in those plants to allow for a reduction in the friction that might accompany it’s establishment. 9.
Union Interaction. The final issue that companies or organizations must deal with is the presence of a union. Many managers expect that self-directed work teams can only be established in companies that do not have unions. Although most companies with self-directed work teams are non-unionized, a growing number of firms with unions are establishing self-directed work teams. The approach that management should use when establishing self-directed work teams should be to develop a positive relationship with the union, and involve the union as soon as possible in planning the changes for the induction of self directed work teams. Management must realize that like first line supervisors, the role of the lower level union officials will change dramatically, which will bring with it a change in the companies grievance procedure.
Instead of grievances being placed against management supervisors, they will be placed against team members. In order for these changes to successfully structure the company or organization, management will have to work very carefully with the union to help foresee and prepare for these changes. If all of these guidelines are carried out efficiently and effectively, self-directed work teams can prove to be an effective and valuable asset to the company or organization, providing many benefits and advantages for many years. In a self-directed work team, a designated leader is not a requirement. Instead, members of the self directed work teams have the ability to share the role of a leader, or the role of the leader can be rotated among the members of the team. However, if the members of the team wish to choose a designated leader, that person must have the knowledge and the skills that are necessary for that position.
Whichever way the self-directed work team chooses to operate, it provides advantages for both the members of the team and the organization as a whole. The advantages for the members of the team are: 1. Increased morale from a more satisfying and effective workplace, 2. Authority to do what is necessary and what is right, 3. More information and knowledge, 4. More involvement in decision making, 5.
More personal pride in the quality of the product, 6. A feeling of commitment and ownership in the company, 7. Camaraderie and support of the team, and 8. Variety and challenge on the work that has to be done. (Bodwell, 1999). The advantages to the organization for establishing self directed work teams are: 1. Increased productivity, quality and customer service, 2.
Enhanced communication among management and the members of the team, 3. Reduced operating costs, 4. Improved organizational ability to change, 5. Quicker adaptation, 6. Enhanced behavioral change, 7. Fewer broader job classifications and, 8.
Increased employee satisfaction (Lucas, 1996). Disadvantages of Self-Directed Work Teams. Despite the many advantages and positive outcomes of self-directed work teams, they are not right for all organizations. If the work that an organization performs does not require a small group of people with complementary skills, then establishing self directed work teams would not be a conducive method of getting the work done. In addition, if the members of the work team do not hold themselves responsible for the initial work product then there is no functioning team.
(Lucas, 1996). Some other disadvantages of self-directed work teams include: 1. The lack of empowerment, 2. The team members unwillingness to change their attitudes to comply with a team based structure, and 3. Lack of participation among some members of the work team. Empowerment as described previously, is one of the major steps in establishing a self-directed work team.
If the team members do not have enough decision making power, or they are unsure of their power or authority, conflicts can arise as to how the team should accomplish its vision or mission. When self-directed work teams are established, some managers are reluctant and unwilling to make a shift from controlling the employees to supporting them in a self directed work team environment. Management must learn to overcome this reluctance and understand that everyone is equal and a part of the team. However, managers have to keep in mind that despite the fact that they might be doing less controlling, they still must provide teams with coaching, and training. If management fails to accept these necessary changes, hostility might develop which will lead to a disfunctioning team and organization. (Bodwell, 1999), (Lucas, 1996).
Another disadvantage of self-directed work teams is that the team members are sometimes unwilling to make personal adjustments to comply with the structure of a self-directed work team. As a result, team members might be fearful of change and will have difficulty living up to expectations as a result of the change. As described before, establishing self-directed work teams has to be done in a series of incremental steps so that everyone will understand the vision and philosophy of the organization. Failure of management to implement self-directed work teams in this way, will lead to hostility and resentment among team members and initial team failure. (Bodwell, 1999). One of the biggest disadvantages of self-directed work teams is the lack of participation among the members of the team. In order for a team to function properly, participation among its members must be constant. Every member of the team has a task to do that is just as important as another team members task.
If a team member does not complete one task, there will be a missing link in the team, which can lead to a collapse of the team. A good strategy to resolve this, for one person or a couple of people to try to act as a role model and motivate those members who are not working as hard as they are. This might influence those members who are not doing their job to jump on the bandwagon of those who are doing their job properly. The team must always keep in mind that their job is to make the company a better place to work, as well as a more competitive and profitable one. There are many advantages for an organization to move to self-directed work teams. It can be advantageous in many ways.
However, installing self-directed work teams in an organization is a challenge to most human resource managers. If not done properly, moving to self-directed work teams can provide more problems that it will fix. This puts an added onus on today’s human resource manager within a self-directed work team organization. Because of the success of self-directed work teams, many managers of other organizations have jumped on the bandwagon. This mass movement towards this radical new concept has created a larger amount of failures for every success story. More than 70% of all business re-engineering efforts are deemed unsuccessful (Garner, 1997). And when these failures occur, the pride of management prevents them from realizing their mistake early on and causes them to push forward even faster than originally anticipated. Then, the whole project snowballs and amounts to even bigger failure, and sometimes companies even going under. However, in most of these instances, it is human error and poor planning rather than a fault of the system being implemented.
Because of this, there has been much negative publicity reported about self-directed work teams. The critics of self-directed work teams swirl around like packs of falters feeding on this negativity. There are several stories about failures of self-directed work teams. One example is that of Johnson Wax. 3 black employees who claimed that self-directed work teams allowed a pattern of racial discrimination to flourish sued Johnson Wax in 1997.
(Neuborne, 1997) Johnson Wax officials say that isnt true. At Kodak, employees were distracted from their regular positions by being increasing time needed to work within their teams. It gets so bad that at one point technical personnel were spending 30 to 40 percent of thei …