Teams and Quality Management

The issue of improving quality has garnered increased attention from management in recent years. In this article, we want to demonstrate the important role that teams play in quality management (QM) programs.

The essence of QM is process improvement, and employee involvement is the linchpin of process improvement. In other words, QM requires management to give employees the encouragement to share ideas and act on what they suggest. One of the various quality management processes and techniques will catch on and be applied except in work teams. All such techniques and processes require high levels of communication and contact response and adaptation, and coordination and sequencing. They require in short, the environment that can be supplied only by superior work teams.

Teams provide the natural vehicle for employees to share ideas and to implement improvements. A QM specialist at Boeing said: When your measurement system tells you your process is out of control, you need team work for structured problem solving. Not everyone needs to know how to do all kinds of fancy control charts for performance tracking but everybody does need to know where their process stands so they can judge if it is improving.

Teams aren’t always the answer:

Teamwork takes more time and often more resources than individual work. Teams for instance, have increased communication demands, conflicts to be managed, and meetings to be run. So the benefits of using teams to exceed the costs. And that’s not always the case. In the excitement to enjoy the benefits of teams, some managers have introduced them into situations in which the work is better done by individuals. So, before you rush to implement teams you should carefully assess whether the work requires or will benefit from a collective effort.

How do you know if the work of your group would be better done in teams? It’s been suggested that three tests be applied to see if a team fits the situation. First, can the work be done better by more than one person? A good indicator is the complexity of the work and the need for different perspectives. Simple tasks that don’t require diverse input are probably better left to individuals. Second, does the work create a common purpose or set of goals for the people in the group that is more than the aggregate of individual goals? For instance, many new car dealer service departments have introduced teams that link customers service personnel mechanics, parts specialists, and sales representative. Such teams can better manage collective responsibility for ensuring that customer needs are properly met. The final test to assess whether teams fit the situation is: Are the members of the group interdependent? Teams make sense when there is interdependence between tasks; when the success of the whole depends on the success of each one and the success of each one depends on the success of the others. Soccer, for instance, is an obvious team sport. Success requires a great deal of coordination between interdependent players. Conversely, except possible for relays, swim teams are not really teams. They’re groups of individuals performing individually whose total performance is merely the aggregate summation of their individual performance.

Effective teams have been found to have common characteristics. They have adequate resources, effective leadership, a climate of trust, and a performance evaluation and reward system that reflects team contributions. The teams have individuals with technical expertise, as well as problem solving, decision-making and interpersonal skills; and high scores on the personality characteristics of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability. Effective teams also tend to be small with fewer than 10 people preferably made up individuals with diverse background. They have members who fill role demands, are flexible and who prefer to be part of a group. And the work that members do providers freedom and autonomy, the opportunity to use different skills and talents, the ability to complete a whole and identifiable task or product, and work that has a substantial impact on others. Finally, effective teams have members committed to a common purpose, specific team goals, members who believe in the team’s capabilities, a manageable level of conflict, and a minimal degree of social loafing.