Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Successfully Using Teams to Assist in Structural Realignments or Downsizing Initiatives

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Successfully Using Teams to Assist in Structural Realignments or Downsizing Initiatives

Article excerpt

The value of teams to the change process has been increasingly emphasized in the organizational literature over the last decade. Yet there has been little discussion of the inherent obstacles to using teams in structural realignments or downsizing initiatives. This article points out these obstacles and offers guidelines for the successful use of teams in such environments.

Teams are effective in assisting organizations in overcoming the inherent deficiencies of the specialized line-staff structures that evolved in 19th-century America. Teams can address issues of process simplification, internal communications, and customer outreach under multiple change models applied to diverse organizational settings. Yet they are rarely properly used during restructuring or downsizing initiatives. The antiquated federal position classification program, questionable normative organizational behavior theory, and the tendency of supervisors to opt for the immediate, short-term solution create additional barriers to effective team utilization. This article addresses these issues and suggests how best to utilize the expertise of teams in such environments.

The Value of Teams

In the post-Civil-War period, specialized line and staff functions and hierarchical organizations were eminently logical. Specialization facilitated the assimilation of a largely agrarian and immigrant workforce. The growing complexity of law, regulation, and operations made specialized staff expertise essential. Taylor and other theorists of the time advocated these hierarchical structures and specialized work assignments under the theories of "scientific management."

Little wonder that the Federal Classification Act of 1923 created a position classification system designed to support stable and hierarchical organizations. The act established the basic rank-in-position classification concept still applied in the federal and numerous state and local governments. Grade levels (and pay) are based upon duties performed and not the qualifications of the employee. Since it is assumed that most positions fit neatly into a single occupational series, relatively little credit is given for variety of duties in determining the appropriate grade level of a position.[1]

The emergence of teams and teamwork within the constraints of a specialized hierarchy organized by function was equally logical. Project accomplishment often requires the talents of various functional specialists. Thus, project-focused teams likely emerged in the earliest manufacturing operations.

Both organizational development and total quality change models assume the existence of hierarchical structures with line-staff relationships. Most disagreements between OD and TQ theorists (and sometimes consultants using the same change model) involve management's role in initiating and executing change or the sequence and balance of process and cultural change within an organization. OD theorists advocate an external intervention by a consultant using behavior-based "action research" to change the organizational culture and then its processes, structures, and other components. Typically this is a bottom-up model with heavy initial input from the workforce. As evidenced from the Quality Circle movement, bottom-up initiatives give the team wide latitude in problem identification and resolution.[2] TQ models vary. The TQ model most distinctly different from OD assumes a top-down implementation with cultural change following process simplification. The activities of working-level teams are limited primarily to process analyses of predefined existing conditions with defined boundaries. Both models assume teams are essential to the change process, since only the person doing the job truly understands how it is done.[3]

In re-engineered organizations, hierarchy is replaced by process-centered structures composed of teams who receive technical, logistics and career-development support from specialized units. …

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