SelfDirected Work Teams

Table of Content

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 company’s 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).

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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 team’s 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 team’s 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 team’s 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

8 Physical Facilities. The physical layout of a company’s 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,

4. Improved organizational ability to 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 member’s 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 member’s 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 isn’t 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 their entire day in meetings. At Eaton Corporation in South Bend can, Indiana, some workers felt as if the self-directed work team movement had become somewhat of a cult. Members who are shy and not into team activities felt as if they were outcast. Other workers felt that some of their peers used the team concept to create clicks within the company. They felt as if these clicks were used to further outcast them or cause their removal from the company. Still others expressed that they did not like the empowerment. They stated that, “you feel more responsible for what you are doing – and that makes you nervous.” (Aeppel, 1997) Eaton Corporation has approximately 155 factories. The one in South Bend, Indiana has a 10 percent turnover rate. This is the highest of all the 155 factories (Aeppel, 1997). The bottom line is that not every worker is cut out for teamwork. Some people work much better alone and unsupervised. Why should these people be subjected to working in an environment that does not fit their personalities? One former union shop employee walked out after six months claiming that he did not like the team aspect. He explained “they should have judged me on my job performance, not on how I interact with my teammates.” (Aeppel, 1997) This is one of the major challenges faced by a human resource manager in many of today’s team based corporations. As stated earlier, if the work of a particular company does not require a small group of people with complimentary skills, it may not be the best approach for that company.

The biggest challenge to a company when deciding to institute a team direction is the proper implementation. If this is not done properly, the whole project can snowball into one big disaster. Such is the case at National Semiconductor Corporation. They first forced all of the 250 people in the information systems organization to actually reapply for their current positions. They then broke them down into teams and changed job responsibilities to fit those teams. At first, the employees loved the idea. 5 months later, it was a completely different scene at National Semiconductor. The CEO, Gilbert F. Amelio, left his post and signed on with Apple Computer. That should have been the first indication that things were not so good. Then came not one, but two rounds of layoffs. Finally, Connie Deletis, VP of information services, conducted a study to see if the company could outsource its infrastructure efforts. Needless to say, in those five short months, morale went from an all-time high, to an all-time low. If not for the hiring of new CEO Brian Halla, things would still be crashing to earth at rocket-like speeds. He came in and decided that it was not the concept that went wrong in the team implementation, but the planning was all wrong. He states, “Tactical errors in planning can trip up months of painstaking planning (Garner, 1997).” It took some time for the ship to be righted, but they now seem to be on the road to recovery. Rani Sandhu, the project manager for the problem management strategy, feels that they are a year behind in productivity from where they could have been.

They tried to take on too much and got burnt. Deletis states that they laid out 38 redesign objectives all at once instead of implementing them one at a time. Sandhu claims, “Customers were complaining more than ever,” “after the redesign, everyone was excited about making the changes that we had to make (Garner, 1997).” Thomas Brooks the companies IS Director agrees, “When we did not have those 38 objectives prioritized, people’s expectations were all over the map (Garner, 1997).” He states that when everything did not happen at once, people started to refine the objectives just to get them out of the way. When others saw this happening, they felt that the redesign was being stopped.

The staff of National Semiconductor had a hard time coping with all of the changes facing them all at once. The people had trouble digesting all of the changes all at once. Deletis feels that they “exceeded their ability to cope.” Another problem that they faced was not truly embracing the team concept. Managers would still hold closed door meetings where major decisions were made. Brooks feels that the loyalty to the team broke down as a result of this and, “it gave managers an out (Garner, 1997).” Deletis states that if they were to do it all over again, they would spend much more time on team effectiveness and training. The main morale to this story is to think small when embarking on such a large project. Take the time to get it done right the first time. Do not panic when things start to not go according to plan. And, lastly, prioritize. It further explains that much of the failures are on the planning and implementation, and not the concept.

There are other examples of some failures that are largely due to the ineffective methods of achieving self-directed work teams. Back in the 1980’s, when team building within organizations started to make some noise in the workplace, John Clifford started General Systems Consulting Group in New Jersey (Curtis, 1997). In the beginning, he would consult with companies that wanted to give this new concept a try. Now, he says, he is doing mostly “clean-up,” and doing one-on-one counseling with people who just cannot seem to work in teams. He states that the track record of the 66% of all businesses that have employed some type of teamwork has been spotty at best. He said that the results are generally positive, but not overly dramatic. He points to the fact that it is a fad and that is why most of the people are converting to it. Clifford says that, “we are not a nation that has ever awarded collectivism; we don’t know how (Curtis, 1997). Clifford does however; state that the reason for the failures is lack of true management commitment and not fully understanding what the concept is before employing it. He explains that these things do require some considerable care and feeding and that companies have to invest time and money in order for success to become a reality. Again, the problem is within the implementation, not the concept.

So, this presents a challenge to the Human Resource manager as well as other managers in the organization. As stated earlier, there are nine basic steps in establishing self-directed work teams. There are also many other recommendations on how to do it right and avoid many of the errors that others have faced. There are some models of how to better build a successful Self-Directed Work Team structures within the company that is worth examining.

The first model is the shared-leadership model. This tackles the all-important factor of leadership within the team. In this model, members take on a leadership role for a different aspect of the work that needs to be done and is responsible for being the authority in that area. For example, one member can be in charge of keeping an eye on the competition’s products, one can be in charge of helping create new ideas, and another can research possible vendors to keep costs down and quality up. This way, all members have equal influence and authority in the group. It also eliminates the need to keep information from others to obtain power within the group. This was a problem observed by many early studies done early on in the Self-Directed Work Team phenomenon. In the Shared Leadership Model, the members have to address key issuer early on. Four major issues that must be determined early on are:

1.Who leads when, and who follows when?

3.How will the work be carried out?

4.How and when will the team know the project is a success? (Arnold, 1996)

After the members decide on many of the workings of the group, managers can assist them in addressing any issues of authority and help them shift the assignments for authority as necessary. This does not completely eliminate the need for a manager either. The support of the manager is vital to the team’s success in the shared-leadership model. Human Resource managers can be very effective in guiding the Self-Directed Work Team in the shared-leadership model. They must use simulations and tests in interviews to help them select people who are better cut out for teamwork. They must also keep a few points in mind.

One of the issues that a Human Resource Manager must keep in mind is that, “employees will feel vulnerable in a self-directed work team because it lacks the familiar clarity of a hierarchical structure (Arnold, 1996).” This can increase the sensitivity of authority issues. Also, should competition help the team by pushing each member a bit harder, or is it a hindrance that erodes the solidarity and friendship (Neuborne, 1997). Education of the shared leadership model is crucial to reduce this heightened sensitivity. The team experience must be fulfilling, and that can be achieved by assuring the employees that others will acknowledge their roles as a follower and a leader.

Another key issue is that the members of the team be open to the team concept. As discussed earlier, some people are just not cut out for this and have only negative opinions of it. Employees who want to be a part of a team contribute the most to that teams success. And teams that are comprised of people, who embrace the team concept, are the most successful teams. Interdependence is also a key attribute to effective team members. They can work interdependently, as well as rely on others when necessary. The ability to shift back and fourth between the roles is essential to the shares-leadership approach.

Yet another issue is the need for self esteem among the members. They have to feel that sense of purpose in the team. They also must feel that they are part of something important. Many unsuccessful teams overlook this basic human need. The more that most team members feel that sense of ownership toward that common goal, the better the overall environment will be and the easier the obstacles will become. Everyone understanding the mission of the team expands their limits and makes it much easier to contribute.

Lastly, the Human Resource manager must ensure that everyone has clearly defined roles. Ambiguity can really stop motivation dead in its tracks. The team members know exactly who to go to with any issues and concerns when the roles are clearly defined.

So, the Human Resource manager and other managers have an important role in the shared-leadership model. Recognizing certain warning signs of trouble are also important for the HR manager to see early before they mushroom into bigger problems. Overlapping responsibilities, missed deadlines, and increased friction are just some of the signs a HR manager should look for. It is also important for the HR manager to educate the employees on identifying the key stakeholders and work with them. These stakeholders are the ones who give expertise and information, as well as provide resources (Arnold, 1996). Pride can easily flourish in the shared-leadership model.

The next model worth taking a look at is the Dutch model adopted by many Dutch companies. While many feel that the Japanese put the team concept on the map, it was actually the European companies that have been practicing it for the last 35 years. The Dutch model follows 4 basic phases and three basic principles.

The first of the 4 basic phases is Phase 1: The bundling of individuals is where the teams are formed after the technical conditions of implementing the teamwork have been set. Members of the team are cross-trained and become multi-skilled workers in this phase. This concept is seen in most models of teamwork and ensures that members can assist each other in case of absenteeism (Van Amelsvoort & Benders, 1996). For any undertaking to be assigned to a team, the team must have at least two members who can accomplish that task. It also helps employee morale to see that a company is investing time and money to cross-train them. There is also training to answer any questions that the employees might have about Self Directed Work Teams and explain to them why the company is going in that direction. The team is then given its objectives for the next six months and holds regular team meetings to discuss issues and build their team communication skills.

The next phase of the Dutch model is Phase 2: Group. In this phase, members of the team get gradual doses of empowerment. They become involved in more aspects of the overall success of the team such as quality control and dealing with absenteeism. This phase is a difficult one for most former managers and foreman, because they are reluctant to give up the power that they once enjoyed. Meetings are still held and performance remains a major theme in those meetings.

The next phase is Phase 3: Team. In this level, management becomes even less involved in the team. Conflict resolution and decision-making become the responsibility of the team.

This is the phase where the team building is the biggest theme of the team. The team begins to set its own goals and interact with management on how they plan to accomplish those goals. The team does team appraisal itself. The team is given a budget at this phase and wages are adjusted to reflect the performance of the team and the attaining of its goals. Although this wage modification is no larger than 5% Otherwise, the peer pressure would exceed a comfortable level to earn that bonus. The team in a 360-degree review conducts individual reviews. This phase is the most psychological of the three phases and the toughest one to make the transition into. As can be concluded, this is also the one that takes the longest to achieve.

The last phase is Phase 4: Open team. In this phase, the team acts as a separate company within the organization. They begin to negotiate contracts with internal then external customers. They review the contracts themselves two or three times per year. They are also invited to attend major company meetings to discuss issues.

Another challenge for Human Resource managers when implementing self directed work teams is the challenge of keeping the work place diverse during the transition. This can be done through combining diversity training in the team building training programs. Integrating articles of diversity and articles written by people with diversity backgrounds can be presented at these meetings. Films relating to diversity as it relates to various aspects of leadership can also be viewed in these sessions. This combination of diversity and team training needs to be identified as strategic factors for the organizations future (Hickman & Creighton-Zollar). Upper management should demonstrate and affirm their support of such programs on a continuing basis. Glenn Parker defined 6 factors that management must be responsible for to make employees aware of their commitment to the curriculum in his “Cross-functional Collaboration” article in 1994. There are as follows:

1.Provide resources such as time, training, funds, people, and equipment.

2.“Talking and walking” teamwork, through verbal and visual actions.

3.Recognizing and rewarding teams and team players.

4.Communicating a vision, charter or broad goals.

5.Breaking down old paradigm and procedural barriers

6.Modeling teamwork so that management works as a team.

In conclusion, it is easily said that Self-Directed Work Teams are a great option for most companies today. That does not mean that it is an ideal concept for all companies. One thing is clear, however; the concept is one that will increase productivity, morale, and quality for organizations that implement it the proper way. If not implemented with much care and caution, it can prove to be an expensive learning experience. All things considered, it is a noble concept that is becoming widely adopted, and will lead many establishments into the next millennium.

Works Cited
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12. Aeppel, Timothy, (Sept. 8, 1997). Missing the Boss: Not All Workers Find Idea of Empowerment As Neat As It Sounds—Some Hate Fixing Machines, Apologizing for Errors, Disciplining Teammates—Rah-Rah Types Do the Best. Wall Street Journal; New York; sA p1.

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14. Hickman, Gill Robinson & Creighton-Zollar, Ann, (1998). Diverse Self-Directed Work Teams: Developing Strategic Initiatives for 21st Century Organizations. Public Personnel Management, v27 n2 p187(14).

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