Magazine article Industrial Management

Empowered Employees: A New Team Concept

Magazine article Industrial Management

Empowered Employees: A New Team Concept

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Many companies striving to edge out their competition are turning to the empowered employee teams initiative. Building upon the company's strengths, the most knowledgeable and skilled employees from each department are teamed in company projects and are given the authority to make total project decisions. However, in order for empowered company teams to be successful, proper training, communication, and timing are crucial. It's a corporate culture change requiring full support from senior management Companies such as McGrawHill, Motorola, and General Electric are discovering that empowering their employees instead of relying on traditional managerial decision-making processes results in increased productivity, profitability, and customer and employee satisfaction. Since cavemen began pooling hunting skills to catch their prey, humans have relied on teamwork to survive. Teamwork in the business world traditionally meant pooling employees' resources so the best staff talents would be put to use on various aspects of a project. This group would then report to a middle-level manager, who made final decisions.

But as more businesses strive to achieve total customer satisfaction by anticipating and solving problems before they occur, a new kind of team has evolved with the goal of ensuring customer satisfaction from the start. Teams of empowered employees with the authority and autonomy to make significant changes in the way a company does business are the driving force behind efforts to attain total customer satisfaction today They still are called teams, but now the group makes all the decisions, with the middle manager position either eliminated or reconfigured to that of a coach.

In theory, it is easy to use the word "team" to describe groups in a workplace, but creating true empowered teams takes forethought, as well as upper-level management's insight and confidence that employees can really run the company. McGraw-Hill's Higher Education Group, the thirdlargest college textbook publisher in the nation, located in Burr Ridge, Illinois, saw this as a necessary method to handle reduced staffing and far-flung operations.

The use of empowered employee teams to solve problems, lower costs, increase quality, and, in short, improve customer satisfaction, is gaining momentum in today's global business environment. This is happening for all the right reasons. A strong empowered team, made up of the right people who are given a clearly defined task, can increase productivity However, people cannot simply be thrown together and be called a team.

Empowered teams improve a company

So how are good teams created? Define the project to be completed, identify how much empowerment is needed, and recruit the best people to work on the problem.

McGraw-Hill defines the budget for each new book title and determines when that book should hit the street. Using these two guidelines, the empowered McGraw-Hill team makes all the decisions for each title released. Each team is composed of a subject-matter expert, a staff member familiar with the author, a designer, a grammarian, production line personnel, and an editor who also serves as the team's facilitator. The teams include a representative from each department within the company who typically "touches the new release in some way," says Merrily Mazza, vice president of editing, design, and production.

Recruiting the right people for a team and ensuring that they represent a cross section of disciplines and areas pertaining to the project are extremely important. If a key person is missing, the team will be flawed.

Motorola, one of the world's premier customer-driven corporations and winner of the 1988 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, developed a culture to help businesses reach higher industry standards. Initiatives such as Six Sigma, Designing for Manufacturability, and Cycle-Time Reduction through Cross-Functional Process Mapping require empowered teams in order to be implemented. …

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