Magazine article Training & Development

Work Teams That Work

Magazine article Training & Development

Work Teams That Work

Article excerpt


A new and fundamentally different way of managing people is taking shape in U.S. business. Teamwork is replacing the outmoded, adversarial approach that has grown between management and labor and that now threatens the competitiveness of many corporations around the world.

Teamwork can be more productive, can produce higher quality, and is more cost-efficient than solo efforts. Teamwork also tends to improve job satisfaction, motivation, and employee morale.

Companies that are willing to rethink old ways and develop teams can profit by increasing quality and productivity. And they can develop a workforce that is motivated and committed.

An American Society for Training and Development HRD Executive Survey received responses from 230 HRD executives about teamwork results. The survey found that

* Productivity improved in 77 percent of the respondents' companies.

* Quality improvements due to teamwork were reported in 72 percent of the companies.

* Waste was reduced in 55 percent of the firms.

* Job satisfaction improved in 65 percent of the respondents' firms.

* Customer satisfaction improved in 57 percent.

Additional benefits cited by respondents included more efficient production scheduling, improved production goal setting, and increased ability of team members to resolve their own disputes.

Executives surveyed in 1990 in an Industry Week poll were also positive about the benefits of teams. When respondents were asked to name the top benefits, improved quality (reported by 30 percent of respondents) headed the list, followed by improved productivity (24 percent). The surveyed executives also cited increased morale and fewer layers of management as significant benefits.

Reports and statistics published by individual companies support the ASTD survey findings. Fortune reports that productivity is as much as 40 percent higher at General Mills plants that use teams than at those that don't. A division of 3M that formed a network of crossfunctional teams to develop new products is one of the company's most innovative and fastest-growing divisions. Teams at one of Ingersoll-Rand's manufacturing plants have reduced scrap in one operation from 15 percent to 3 percent.

Success stories are common, and statistical and case studies also support the idea that teamwork works. Tom Peters, management guru and long-time advocate of teams, says in his book Thriving on Chaos: Handbook for a Management Revolution, "I observe that the power of the team is so great that it is often wise to violate common sense and force a team structure on almost anything."

Companies that do, he reasons, will achieve greater focus, stronger task orientation, more innovation, and enhanced individual commitment.

Why teamwork works

Examine manufacturing and service processes in most organizations and you'll find compartmentalized functions, fragmented tasks, and sequential, simplified activities that reflect the old Henry Ford assembly-line design.

But in the 1990s, most modern work processes are more complex. They are nonlinear and can't be (or shouldn't be) simplified into strings of quick, sequential tasks. The productivity and quality that companies want often require a high degree of collaboration among people, departments, and functions.

Many thinking executives have concluded that, given today's productivity and quality objectives, traditional job designs oversimplify the work process. They've found that changing the traditional structure, in which employees perform specialized job functions, to a team structure, in which team members share a core of functions, improves efficiency and effectiveness.

Here's a case in point. GE Chairman and CEO John F. Welch, Jr., wondered why other U.S. firms were getting higher productivity growth than GE. …

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