Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Self-Managing Work Teams: Do They Really Work?

Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Self-Managing Work Teams: Do They Really Work?

Article excerpt

Given the fiercely competitive and increasingly global environment, the pressures to increase productivity and improve relationships with customers, and at the same time improve quality of work life, are paramount if organizations are to survive and thrive. As a result, organizations have turned to a variety of new management techniques and alterative ways of structuring or designing jobs. One approach that is being frequently used is self-managing work teams (SMWTs or the team).

Although the SMWT is a relatively new and still little-understood phenomenon, it has much in common with the older and more thoroughly investigated fields of organizational development (OD) and work groups behavior (Metlay, Kaplan & Rogers, 1994). SMWTs can be described as relatively autonomous work groups in which the responsibilities and duties traditionally maintained by management have been transferred to the teams. The teams, then, have high degrees of self-regulation in their daily activities, thus the need for traditional managers is negated. Control is moved from outside the group to inside the group, with the aim of increasing the quality and quantity of productivity as well as the quality of work life. The shifting of control, authority, and responsibility further down in the organization (e.g., to the team level) distinguishes SMWTs from various other group-oriented participative management interventions.

SMWTs have generated a great deal of interest in organizations in the last several years, and during this time there have been a proliferation of articles discussing the characteristics, the implementation, the advantages, and the overwhelming success of SMWTs for improving the work attitudes and performance of employees. Unfortunately, many of these accounts are purely narrative, anecdotal, and speculative. While these accounts are important in providing information about SMWTs, they do not help us understand SMWTs in terms of causes and effects, or make actual measurements of the phenomena. What makes a SMWT succeed or fail has not been sufficiently explored; what forces are at work within SMWTs and what distinguishes them from other types of work groups still needs to be investigated.

The purpose of our investigation was to develop a methodology for examining and assessing SMWTs. A rapidly expanding fast food restaurant chain that was experimenting with the implementation of SMWTs was the testing ground for the development of this methodology. Three categories of restaurants, or stores, were used in this study: newly initiated, or greenfield self-management stores, traditionally managed stores, and stores that were in the process of converting from traditional to self-management.

The first step in the process was to identify the essential and distinguishing characteristics and responsibilities of the SMWTs. This included assessing the degree to which a team was actually self-managing by looking at the characteristics of the work environment and the activities that various SMWTs and non-self-managing teams performed.

The second step of the process was to determine what goes on in a SMWT and to determine the relationships between variables relevant to self management in terms of a group behavior model. This was done to assess the bottom line effectiveness of SMWTs. The complete methodology can be found in a doctoral dissertation on the examination and assessment of self-managed teams (Shapiro, 1994).

Company Background

The organization in which the study took place was a rapidly expanding chain of drive-through fast food restaurants. The chain was a fully owned division of a larger, better known national fast food chain. Although the division chain had its own operations people working in the restaurants, or stores, many field staff positions, such as Human Resources and Finance, were shared with the parent company. The president of the chain reported directly to the president of the parent company. …

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