Academic journal article IBAR

A Team Approach to Job Design

Academic journal article IBAR

A Team Approach to Job Design

Article excerpt


There have been numerous anecdotal accounts of high performance work teams in both the academic and the business literature. Indeed, Peters (1987) almost raises the team working concept to that of an orthodoxy calling for modest-sized, task oriented, semiautonomous, mainly self-managing teams to be the basic building block of all organisational design. However, empirical data to confirm whether such teams aid organisations in becoming more effective is relatively scarce and, according to Buchanan & Preston (1992), this team approach to work may now be under threat due to poor conceptualisation and a lack of systematic empirical evidence. Often subsumed under the overarching concept of job redesign or job restructuring, the underlying rationale for the introduction of work teams it to improve the organisations competitive position through the more effective utilisation of human resources. As McCalman (1989:354) puts it:

The introduction of work groups is consistently being seen as one of the major organisational tools for successful competitive edge. Invented in Britain in the 1960s, it has been exported to the United States and Scandinavia where a process of refinement has altered the basic thinking behind its application. A number of American corporations have been developing autonomous group ideas, and the approach is being re imported into Britain in the subsidiary operations of multinationals, under the revised name, High Performance Work Systems.

The team, emerging in response to the strategic imperative of the '90s, becomes the smallest identifiable element in the organisation whose members share a common objective. However, with the notable exception of Buchanan and McCalman's (1989) insightful, detailed account of Digital's experience with High Performance Work Teams, there has been a paucity of high quality studies. In general, the more rigorous the design, the more modest the results (Cohen and Ledford 1991). There is clearly a need for more rigorous designs, dedicated to the collection of longitudinal data. The present study, conducted in a high technology computer manufacturing facility, is, in part, a response to this caveat in current research. This article discusses the reasons for the revival of job redesign and the 'new' emphasis on high performance work systems. Then, using data from the study, the impact of the restructuring initiative on work characteristics and satisfaction and on the organisations culture and belief system is assessed.

The Revival of Job Redesign

There has been a sustained revival of interest in job restructuring and design as one of several levers available to managers interested in creating high performance organisational systems (Buchanan & McCalman 1989, Mooney 1989, Vail 1982, Lawler 1978, Cherns 1976). This revival of interest is principally associated with the quest for competitive advantage via the more effective utilisation of human resources. Human resources are now seen as perhaps the sole remaining unexploited mechanism available to organisations to improve their competitive position. This is clearly reflected in what is termed the high performance literature (Vail 1982, Perry 1984, Lawler 1986, Hanna 1988, Buchanan & McCalman 1989, Neusch & Siebentaler 1993), and indeed in the excellence literature (Peters & Waterman 1982, Moss Kanter 1983, Quinn Mills l991). All of these contributors highlight the need to empower employees in an attempt to make organisations more effective. This empowerment is achieved through the balancing of 'responsible' autonomy and dependence in a group based work structuring approach, dedicated to the development of a highly skilled, flexible, co-ordinated, committed, productive workforce, coupled with a leaner flatter more responsive organisation (Block 1990, Mooney 1989, Buchanan & McCalman 1989, Hastings 1993, Neusch & Siebentaler 1993, Hanna 1988).

Why the 'New' Emphasis on High Performance Systems? …

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