Teams and quality management


The issue of “improving quality� has garnered increased attention from management in recent years. This is to ensure Global competitiveness after the international markets opened up for India post liberalization.

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.

None 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, adaptation, coordination and sequencing. They require 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. Gil Mosard, a QM specialist at Boeing states that, When a measurement system tells you your process is out of control, team work is needed 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.

Examples from Ford Motor Co. and Amana Refrigeration, Inc., illustrate how teams are being used in QM programs.
Ford began its QM efforts with teams as the primary organizing mechanism. “Because this business is so complex, you can’t make an impact on it without a team approach,� noted one Ford manager. In designing its quality problem-solving teams, Ford’s management identified five goals.
The teams should be:

1. Be small enough to be efficient and effective.
2. Be properly trained in the skills their members will need;
3. Be allocated enough time to work on the problems they plan to address;
4. Be given the authority to resolve the problems and implement corrective action;
5. Each has a designated “champion,� whose job it is to help the team get around roadblocks that arise.

At Amana, cross-functional task forces made up of people from different levels within company used to deal with quality problems that cut across departmental lines. The various task forces each have a unique area of problem-solving responsibility. For instance, one handles in-plant products, another deals with items that arise outside the production facility, and still another focuses its attention specifically on supplier problems. Amana claims that the use of these teams has improved vertical and horizontal communication within the company and substantially reduced both the number of units that don’t meet company specifications and the number of service problems in the field


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 have to exceed the costs and that is 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, the service departments of many new-car dealers have introduced teams that link customer service personnel, mechanics, parts specialists, and sales representatives. Such teams can better manage collective responsibility for ensuring that customer needs are properly met.
The final test to assess whether teams fir 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 others.

Soccer, for instance, is an obvious team sport. Success requires a great deal of coordination between interdependent players. Conversely, except possibly 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 performances.