Accountability for Individuating Behaviors in Self-Managing Teams

By deLeon, Linda | Organization Development Journal, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Accountability for Individuating Behaviors in Self-Managing Teams


deLeon, Linda, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

This exploratory study of self-directed work teams (SDWTs) in public-sector organizations investigates how members handle individuating behaviors, actions that are either irrelevant to the task at hand or actually obstruct its accomplishment. In general, the answer is that even teams trained in conflict management will tend to avoid confronting and dealing with members who engage in difficult" behaviors. Instead, teams will ignore or "cope" with these behaviors, attempt a variety of informal means to mitigate them, or seek outside assistance in solving the problem.

Introduction

Self-managing teams are not new. Generally considered to have roots in the work of socio-technical systems theorists such as Trist and Bamforth (1951), as well as on the experience of such famous sites as the Volvo plants in Sweden (Bernstein, 1988), early use of teams occurred primarily in manufacturing plants (Beckham, 1998). During the 1970s, the worker democracies of Yugoslavia were much admired by theorists of organization behavior in the United States (Comisso, 1979; Garson, 1977; Sacks, 1983), and the use of self-directed work teams (SDWTs) has spread to the service sector of private industry and into the public sector as well.

The current surge of public-sector experimentation with SDWTs is fueled by the quest to reinvent governments and modernize the public administration both in the U.S. and abroad. As in earlier waves of interest, the primary motivation for utilizing this form of organization is probably a hope that it will increase productivity both by achieving process efficiencies - particularly when SDWT organization is coupled with efforts at reengineering - and by encouraging employees to look for and suggest new ways of performing tasks. Research on the performance achievements of SDWTs, has shown mixed results. While there are cases where productivity has improved greatly (Semler, 1989; Stayer, 1990; Stinehart, 1995; Wellins, Belham & Wilson, 1991), other research (Wall, Kemp, Jackson & Clegg, 1986) indicates that SDWTs, while no less productive than manager-led work groups once they are well-established, do not always produce productivity gains. In a metaanalysis designed to test whether success rates for quality-of-work-life interventions in public sector agencies were subject to a positive-findings bias, however, (Golembiewski and Sun, 1992) found that they were not, showing success rates that were high and similar to those for business application. Productivity is not, of course, the only reason for implementing teams: other motivations for using SDWTs might include improving worker job satisfaction and motivation, or providing opportunities for personal development and growth, but these reasons are not commonly advanced in the current literature.

Problem Statement

Self-directed work teams (SDWT) are generally defined as groups of employees who work interdependently and who have responsibility for planning, organizing and scheduling their own work, making production- or service-related decisions, and taking action to remedy problems, including member discipline and rewards (Wellins, 1990). A variety of models purporting to explain the "success" or "effectiveness" of SDWTs have been suggested (for a review, see Yeatts & Hyten, 1998). The dependent variable, effectiveness, has been variously conceptualized. Sundstrom, DeMeuse and Futrell (1995), for example, point out that effectiveness has two key dimensions: task performance and team viability. By "viability," they mean the willingness of team members to continue to work together. Hackman (1992) also proposes a model of team ("unit") effectiveness, which he gives three dimensions. These are performance ("the degree to which the unit's output ...meets the standards of the people who ...receive it" [p. 152]), viability ("the degree to which the process of carrying out the work enhances the capability of organization members to work together independently in the future" [p. …

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