Implementing Self-Directed Work Teams

CMA - the Management Accounting Magazine, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Implementing Self-Directed Work Teams


Management Accounting Guideline 38, Implementing Self-Directed Work Teams, from The Society of Management Accountants of Canada explains how self-directed teams work and details the organizational and management challenges involved in their implementation. It provides practical strategic and operating principles and approaches for implementing self-directed work teams.

The need for continuous improvement to compete in a swiftly changing world has led some organizations to consider a breakthrough approach: self-directed work teams (SDWTs). This participative management approach is appearing in both manufacturing and non-manufacturing organizations all over the globe. Pioneered by Procter and Gamble three decades ago, SDWTs have been used by companies such as General Motors, Federal Express and Boeing, all of whom have reported varied but always positive results. Attention has been focussed on SDWTs because companies recognize the benefits that can be realized from a fully trained and committed work team.

SDWTs differ in several fundamental ways from cross-functional teams, which have a limited time in which to complete a time-sensitive task. Like cross-functional teams, SDWTs can include members from a variety of functions, but the teams carry out the organization's daily work and serve as their members' organizational home base. They are unlimited in duration.

SDWTs are a logical step in the evolution of empowerment in the workplace. Traditional teams are usually empowered to do their work, make the decisions needed to satisfy customers' requirements, and operate with little or no supervision. SDWTs have a higher level of empowerment; team members are empowered not only to do their own work, but to manage the performance of the team - carrying out the planning, controlling, coordinating and improvement functions normally carried out by management.

The decision to implement SDWTs shouldn't be taken lightly. Implementation typically takes two to five years and affects every aspect of organizational life. Organizations considering implementing SDWTs should have a clear purpose in mind, and SDWTs should enable the organization to achieve that purpose. Common goals of organizations implementing SDWTs include the following:

* increased productivity, quality and customer service;

* enhanced communications;

* reduced operating costs;

* improved organizational ability to change;

* quicker adaptation to new technologies;

* enhanced behavioral change;

* fewer, broader job classifications; and

* increased employee satisfaction. …

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