Term Paper: Self-Directing Self-Managing Work Teams and How it Is Relevant to the Workplace

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Self-Directed Teams

Self-directed work teams are becoming increasingly popular in both manufacturing and service organizations, because of their positive characteristics of focusing on team contributions and solutions, collaboration, continuous improvement, competency and positive results to productivity. However, a company must think carefully about the ramifications on both the management and the personnel when implementing these teams. They will impact everyone in the organization, including both management and employees. It will be necessary to educate people at all levels of the organization about the power of these teams. Especially, the organization must ensure that everyone recognizes that self-directed teams are not a new management fad, but rather an important element since World War II. Competitive standards are changing around the world, and organizations have to do whatever they can to meet and surpass them.

The importance of teams in an organizational setting is relatively new, growing during the late 1950s and 1960s. Although the concept of self-directed teams was established in the 1960s, it was not until the 1980s that they came to the fore. It is not surprising, therefore, that although a number of studies have been conducted on self-directed work teams, a great deal more need to be conducted to better clarify what company and employee factors are required to best guarantee their successful implementation.

The concept of self-managed work teams are a direct outgrowth of socio-technical systems theory and design that was developed by Eric Trist and his colleagues in England about forty years ago. This theory contends that organizations closely unite people and technology in complex forms to produce specific outputs. This process is supported through sub-systems. The technical sub-system, for instance, consists of equipment, technologies and operational methods used to transform raw material into products or services. The social sub-system includes the work structure that causes people to interact with both technologies and each other (Attaran & Nguyen, 1999).

The primary method of instilling the socio-technical systems approach has been cross-sectional design teams, which usually implement planned change programs, initiate improvements, and encourage learning. The concept works only when team members understand their goals and are committed to attaining. Thus, team members are involved in formulating tasks so that they feel invested in the process and dedicated to accomplishing the stated goals (Attaran & Nguyen, 1999).

Before proceeding, it is important to clarify some specific terminology. According to Kalbaugh (1998), a self-directed team consists of two or more people who share decision-making powers and the responsibility for considerable aspects of their individual jobs on the way that their work interacts with that of other team members and for how their team's contributions affect the overall organization. Other names for self-directed teams are empowered teams, autonomous work teams and self-managed teams.

Chatfield, Vice President for Engineering Leadership Interaction Research Institute, makes a distinction on his website between self-directed and self-managed groups: He states that the former is a group of individuals working together in their own way toward a common goal that the team defines. The team also handles compensation and discipline and acts as a profit center by defining its own future. Before anyone would try to implement a self-directed team, he/she should know and be able to articulate expected benefits. A mature self-directed team, when compared to typical hierarchical management, would have demonstrated measured results. Rather, a self-directed managed team is a group of people working together in their own way toward a common goal that is defined outside or external to the team. For the sake of this paper, however, the two terms will be used as synonymously.

Characteristics of self-directed teams include: 1) Formed permanently. Unlike quality circles, members are part of an ongoing, active team; 2) Set goals and methods to achieve them; 3). Meet regularly to plan and report activities, discuss problems and strengthen cohesiveness; 4). Establish rules, roles and procedures. Teams may be empowered and have control over: Determining responsibilities within the team, handling absenteeism and other member problems, allocating vacation time, scheduling; recruiting and hiring new members, selecting their leaders, setting performance standards for themselves, appraising group performance, budgeting, and training 5) Members are interdependent, learn each other's jobs, often rotate duties, and commonly fill in for absent teammates.

As with any other newly introduced organizational structure, self-directed teams vary in their successful output based on a variety of factors. These can be categorized into factors that are organization driven, or the degree of success due to characteristics of the company and its management, and factors that are individual driven, or the degree of success due to the personality and skill level of the team members.

The self-directed work team is usually thought of as a "leaderless" group of workers who take the place of supervisors and fulfill many management functions (Capozzoli, 2004). However, many of the trials to implement self-directed work teams have not succeeded, because the organization has not been prepared for this structure or not provided the necessary support. Some guidelines that can increase the success of self-directed teams include: 1).The organization has a well considered vision of the way these teams will fit into the overall structure of the entire organization; 2) the whole company must be ready to change its culture in support of the teams; 3) the organization must have the resources required to back this form of change in time, money and people.

4) After the training takes place, it will take time for the teams to get used to one another and develop their new-found skills; 5) Performance expectations of the teams must be developed, so they know attainable and not "pie-in-the-sky" expectations; 6) Feedback methods must be developed for teams, so they can determine what they are doing and make necessary corrections; 7) Flexible boundaries must be set so teams will be allowed to operate and know limits of empowerment; and 8. Self-directed teams must never be thought of as needing management intervention. Supervisors will not be completely replaced, but will develop a new roll as team coaches and advisors (Capozzoli, 2004).

Tata and Prasad (2004) found that despite the popularity of self-directed teams not all attempts to implement them are productive. As a result, the authors' study examined the relationships between structural variables, level of team self-management, and judgments of team effectiveness. Their results indicated that the two aspects of organizational structure -- micro-level centralization and formalization -- moderated the influence of the teams' effectiveness. Self-management was more apt to influence judgments on team effectiveness under low levels of micro-level centralization and similar levels of formalization.

The authors (Tata and Prasad, 2004) believed that their findings suggested that teams with the opposite, or high levels of self-management, may have more of an effect in those organizations where the authority to make decisions about task performance is distributed, as well as in companies with less explicit rules, policies, and procedures. As a result, rather than looking inward at team processes or at characteristics of team members to determine why some groups with high levels of self-management are ineffective, firms may need to look at the organizational context of teams, especially at possible misalignments between team-level and organization-level structural factors.

Douglas (2006) found that although implementing self-directed work teams presents a challenge, the subordinates' perceptions of managers' influence strategies impact their success of change within organizations. Relying on data gathered over a year and a-half, Douglas researched employees' perceptions of managerial communication that was used prior to and during the implementation of self-directed teams at a manufacturing firm. His study also examined the effect of team and organizational communication on the members' involvement. The results demonstrated that employees were more motivated by those managers who communicated persuasively using "soft" influence tactics in the team development process. In addition, team communication was found to have a significant positive effect on the members' participation. Thus, it appeared that strong support for use of soft influence tactics in managerial communications when implementing self-directed work teams is effective.

Other changes also must also occur in the management of such organizations with these teams, according to Politis (2003). Self-directed teams were the most memorable trend of the 1990s, and they will continue to dominate the work environment of the twenty-first century (Manz and Sims, 2001) in manufacturing and service organizations (Cohen et al., 1996). As teamwork continues to grow in popularity (Cohen et al., 1996; Manz and Sims, 2001), trust has increasingly taken place within the team context. That is why proponents of self-managing teams suggest that there is a clear need for trust to be established prior to team members responding openly and incorporating new information, or what today is called knowledge. This is the only way they can develop useful decisions.

Politis' (2003) results suggested that the interpersonal trust dimension of reliance in fellow workers is a main property that can impact communication/problem comprehension and self-managing teams structure. It is the "trustworthy" intention of peers that encourages and facilitates an open communication, the understanding of work-related issues, and organizing the dissemination of knowledge. Such… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Self-Directing Self-Managing Work Teams and How it Is Relevant to the Workplace.  (2007, October 15).  Retrieved December 7, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/self-directing-managing-work-teams/29063

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