Changes in Hierarchy accompany pursuit of quality

The pursuit of quality in an organization can have a dramatic impact on the hierarchical structure. One reason is that a component of effective quality programs is the use of self directed work teams to boost productivity.

At Northern Telecom’s Morrisville, North Carolina, repair facility, people look forward coming to work because of the challenge enjoyment and learning that takes place in the redesigned workplace. What did it enlist the support of these employees? It enlisted the creation of self directed work teams. At Northern Telecom, rather than having decision making be the preserve of management, the workers are empowered to take on responsibility and make decisions. For example, under team direction, the employees order materials, calculate productivity schedule and track overtime review budgets and interview prospective team members. In some of the more advanced teams, the team members perform peer performance evaluations and provide feedback for employee corrective action.

In most organization the creativity and knowledge of workers is a largely untapped resource. So in a team based structure such as Northern Telecom’s, the utilization of the collective brainpower of all employees is a competitive strategy. Because they are involved in all functions of business and empowered to take on this responsibility, they are committed to their work and to the organization. But such self managed teams take a strong commitment from senior management, a change in the culture, and a willingness to change the structure of the work processes. Companies have found that once self direction is implemented, it is virtually impossible to go back to a traditional management hierarchy.

Today’s researchers are in agreement that there is no one ideal span of management. Choosing an appropriate span of management requires weighting such factors as the environment and the capabilities of both managers and employees. A wider span of management, for example, is appropriate for more experienced managers and employees. Another matter of agreement today, as we have noted, is that tall hierarchies can be a barriers to quick decision making. Thus hierarchies and spans of management control can and should be changed over time.


Coordination is the process of integrating the activities of separate departments in order to pursue organizational goals effectively. Without coordination, people would lose sight of their roles within the total organization and be tempted to pursue their own departmental interests at the expense of organizational goals.

The extent of coordination depends on the nature of the tasks performed and the degree of interdependence of people in the various units performing them. When these tasks require or can benefit from communication between units, then a high degree of coordination is best. When information exchange is less important work may be completed more efficiently with less interaction between units. A high degree of coordination is likely to be beneficial for work that is non-routine and unpredictable for work in which factors in the environment are changing and for work in which interdependence is high. In addition, organizations that set high performance objectives usually require a higher level of coordination.

Coordination can also occur among people working at different organizations. A case in point is a newly-announced consortium whose members will work toward creating an 80 mile per gallon low pollution automobile. The Clinton administration is spearheading this effort along with representatives from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford – the so-called Big Three – and the United Autoworkers Union. Ambitious as President John F Kennedy’s goal on the early 1960s of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade (it happened in 1969) this consortium will require a high degree of coordination for all the reasons we cited in the previous paragraph.

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