Academic journal article College Student Journal

Implementing Self-Directed Work Teams at a College Newspaper

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Implementing Self-Directed Work Teams at a College Newspaper

Article excerpt

The problem: Motivating and retaining staff had become an ongoing problem at the student newspaper. Student staffers would quit abruptly when overwhelmed or dissatisfied, leaving the newspaper with critical positions vacant. This affected the performance of the newspaper.

Method: The newspaper was organized into self directed work teams (SDWTs). Staffers completed measures of ambiguity tolerance, locus of control, and Big Five personality dimensions (extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness to experience). The newspaper editor (a student) and the staff advisor (who also works as a professional journalist) evaluated the performance of each staffer following the reorganization. Outcome variables were employee performance as measured by this evaluation, number of newspaper pages per issue, and advertising revenue dollars. Results: Following the reorganization, the paper saw an increase in page count and advertising dollars. Internal locus of control was the sole significant predictor of employee performance under the SDWT structure. Unexpectedly, neither conscientiousness nor agreeableness correlated with employee performance. Conclusion: Self-directed work teams can improve the performance of student organizations, but the SDWT structure is not right for everyone. Internal locus of control is the strongest predictor of individual performance under the SDWT structure.

Self directed work teams (SDWTs) have been used to improve manufacturing performance. In this study we describe the implementation of SDWTs at the student newspaper of a public university. The organization is over 40 years old and has a staff of around 30, including writers, editors, advertisers and graphic designers, all students. Motivating and retaining staff had been an ongoing issue. With no concrete consequences for quitting, student staffers could easily walk away when overwhelmed or dissatisfied, leaving the newspaper with important job functions vacant. This affected on the performance of the newspaper with regard to page count and advertising revenue.

In the Fall of 2010, the new editor, in consultation with faculty from the College of Business and Economics, set out to address the problem by reorganizing the newspaper into self directed work teams (SDWTs). The purpose of this was twofold: To improve the functioning of the student newspaper, and to engage in an applied management research project. Student clubs are an often untapped source of opportunity for student-led research (Norvilitis, 2000).

The editor divided the organization into teams for each distinct sector (News, A&E, Sports, Advertising) and provided each team with the resources to run as a separate body, making decisions from content to design to staff hirings/firings. Measurable results were positive overall. There were, however, some implementation issues, including dissatisfaction and alienation on the part of some of the staffers. In this paper we describe the implementation of SDWTs at the student newspaper, and the positive and negative outcomes.

The authors of this study are the managing editor of the newspaper and a faculty member who was not directly involved in the reorganization.

Self-directed work teams

A self-directed work team is a group responsible for a complete product (M. Z. Hackman & Johnson, 1996; Kulisch & Banner, 1993) where members are responsible not only for executing the work but also for monitoring and managing their own work and interpersonal processes (J. R. Hackman, 1987). The use of self-directed teams in the workplace represents a departure from the classical management approach first popularized by mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who developed a systematic approach to management in the early 20th Century (Rosen, 1993). Taylor's work with the Ford Motor Company allowed him to establish scientific management in American industry (Taylor, 1911). …

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