Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Team Self-Management, Organizational Structure, and Judgments of Team Effectiveness

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Team Self-Management, Organizational Structure, and Judgments of Team Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Self-managed work teams are popular in today's business environment; they have been referred to as the productivity breakthrough of the 1990s (Attaran and Nguyen, 2000). Many organizations, such as Ford, General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, Federal Express, Levi Strauss, and Westinghouse, have implemented self-managed teams. Other firms are planning to use such teams in the near future (Dumaine, 1994; Lawler et al., 1995). Part of the popularity of such teams is based on reports from organizations that suggest that serf-managed teams can increase performance, improve the quality of products, and increase levels of innovation (Hammer and Stanton, 1995; Harris, 1992). At the same time, researchers have also become interested in self-managed teams because of the inferred connection between serf-management and organizational competitiveness (Hackman, 1986; Walton, 1985). Some researchers (e.g., Campion et al., 1993, 1996; DeDreu and West, 2001) have empirically identified relationships between self-management and increased team effectiveness.

Other scholars (e.g., Bergmann and De Meuse, 1996; Mohrman et al., 1995), however, are questioning the efficacy of self-managed teams, and the connection between serf-managed teams and effectiveness does not always exist in practice (Verespej, 1990). An increasing number of organizations are becoming disenchanted with the idea of such teams (Wageman, 1997). Managers observe slow and, sometimes, nonexistent progress in team members' efforts to take on responsibility for decisions that previously belonged to managers. Several cases suggest that teams do not always improve conditions, and a survey of 580 organizations found that teams with high levels of serf-management had a negative impact in several organanizations (Ashley, 1992). These contradictory findings in the literature raise a question: Why do some organizations manage to effectively implement teams with high levels of self-management, while others do not? To answer this question, we need additional research examining the critical factors that create obstacles for team self-management and moderate the effectiveness of such teams.

One factor that could potentially influence the effectiveness of self-managed teams is organizational structure. Work teams change the way people interact and work in organizations. The implementation of teams is context-dependent, the success of which can depend on the alignment between team-level and organizational-level structural factors.

Although the connection between organizational structure and the effectiveness of team self-management might appear intuitive and proponents of self-managed teams (e.g., Hammer and Stanton, 1995; Kulweic, 2001; Wellins et al., 1990) suggest that a move to such teams implies, or should imply, a move to a flatter organizational structure, this idea does not appear to have been empirically tested, nor is it universally practiced in organizations (Romig, 1996). Indeed, scholars have suggested that self-managed teams often exist as pockets of structural anomaly within organizations (Yeatts and Hyten, 1998). Such misalignments between team structure (self-management) and organizational structure can often be counterproductive and attempts to implement self-managed teams may cause frustration for both employees and management when organizational systems and structures do not accommodate self-managing demands. This notion has been supported by empirical research (e.g., Uhl-Bien and Graen, 1998). Hence, we need to empirically examine the connection between organizational structure and the effectiveness of self-managed teams.

This study adopts an organizational design perspective on teams and examines the relationships between organizational structural variables, level of team self-management, and judgments of team effectiveness. Examining these relationships is important for several reasons. First, there is a scarcity of research on the connection between dimensions of organizational structure and team self-management. …

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