Magazine article Industrial Management

The Value of Self-Directing Work Teams

Magazine article Industrial Management

The Value of Self-Directing Work Teams

Article excerpt

Self-directing work teams (also known as self-designing work teams) are teams that are authorized to decide their objectives and how to achieve them. Research indicates that such teams offer many benefits, including the most potential for innovation, enhanced goal commitment and motivation and opportunity for organizational learning and change, L.J. Thompson wrote in Making the Team:A Guide for Managers. But organizations should be aware that self-directing work teams also have a few key disadvantages. According to Thompson, they can be time-consuming, have the greatest potential for conflict and can be very costly to build.

What the research says

In 2007, B.A. Macy, G. F. Farias, J.F. Rosa and C. Moore reported about their study, where they examined the organizational design of a global consumer products manufacturer that was trying to move toward high-performance work systems with self-directed work teams. The study, "Built to Change: High-Performance Work Systems and Self-Directed Work Teams - A Longitudinal Quasi-Experimental Field Study," was published in Research in Organizational Change and Development. It showed that self-directed work teams made an important contribution to organizational development, change management and organizational transformation.

Likewise, M. Roy's study in Safety Science focused on how self-directed work teams have considerably changed the power with companies. Not only have they been able to carry out necessary work and tasks, but they are able to make decisions normally made by line supervisors, Roy reported in "Self-directed Work Teams and Safety: A Winning Combination?" Roy examined the ability of self-directed work teams to affect 12 factories in Quebec. The study revealed that the empowerment provided to self-directed work teams positively affected the management of health and safety. Teams played more important roles in planning, implementation and monitoring of corrective measures.

J.R. Wilson and S.M. Grey-Taylor performed a case study on self-directed work teams and their ability to tackle issues with a product redesign through the use of simultaneous engineering. Specifically, "Simultaneous Engineering for Self-directed Work Teams Implementation: A Case Study in the Electronics Industry," in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, examined their interactions among various disciplines and parallel consideration of product design. Results indicated that members of self-directed work teams, through their involvement in the first pilot of the redesign, were able to gain confidence, skills and knowledge.

C. Douglas and W.L. Gardner found that the use of self-directed work teams can contribute to current product and process development. "Transition to Self-directed Work Teams: Implications of Transition Time and Self-Monitoring for Managers' Use of Influence Tactics" in the Journal of Organizational Behavior focused on the tactics required by management to use self-directed work teams.

Today, organizations tend to rely on self-directed work teams due to the high expectations, demand and the need for work empowerment. Various analyses indicate that although selfdirected work team tactics are needed to implement this new team environment, most management tactics still focus on an individual level. But many authors suggest that transitioning to these new teams will require an adjustment by management. In this adjustment period, managers tend to use soft influence tactics and decrease their use of high influence tactics.

D.F. Elloy, in "The Influence of Superleader Behaviors on Organization Commitment, Job Satisfaction and Organization Self-esteem in a Self-managed Work Team," collected data from a nonunion paper mill company in a rural community located in the Northeast. The authors findings, reported in Leadership & Organization Development Journal, indicated that groups led by supervisors with superleader characteristics had higher organizational commitment, job satisfaction and organizational self-esteem. …

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