Self Managed Teams

Super teams that manage themselves without any formal supervision are called self managed teams or self managed work groups. These teams usually have the following characteristics:
1. The team has responsibility for a “relatively whole task”.
2. Team members each possess a variety of task related skills
3. The team has the power to determine such things as work methods, scheduling, and assignment of members to different tasks.
4. The performance of the group as a whole is the basis for compensation and feedback.

The presence of such groups in industry means individual strategies for completing tasks are replaced by group methods for job accomplishment.

As with super teams in general, this participative approach is seen in both manufacturing and non-manufacturing organizations within the United States. For example, in Worthington Industries and Chaparral Steel, it is routine for security guards to enter orders and run ambulances, for supervisors to hire and train their own staffs, and for supervisors to determine operating procedures for few equipment. Similarly, at the GM Delco-Remy plant in Fitzgerald, Georgia, workers generally handle all quality control, track their own time, and rotate as work team leaders. Chaparral’s steel is of superb quality, and the GM Delco-Remy plant has an exceptionally good record on absenteeism, quality, and productivity.

Self managed teams at Xel communications:

Another company that has had much success with self managed teams is XEL Communications Inc., a spin off from GTE Corporation. XEL competes with giants like AT&T and Northern Telecom in the manufacture if telecommunications equipment such as customized circuit boards. In the mid 1980s company managers developed self managed teams to cope with high costs and slow responses to customers needs. The teams were organized as cellular production groups that build whole families of circuit boards. The team concept is working XEL recorded sales of approximately $125 million in 1993, up from $117 million in 1992.

To support the team process, banners are hung in the manufacturing facilities to mark each team’s work area. The company displays team performance on wall charts that track attendance, on time deliveries, and other variables. Teams meet daily, without a supervisor, to plan their work to meet production requirements. The teams meet with management once a quarter to make a formal presentation on group accomplishments and setbacks.

XEL has found some difficulties in the team approach, however. The team process has made staffing and hiring decisions very difficult. Managers must consider not only whether the job candidate has the requisite skills, but whether he or she can perform within a particular team. The company tried to hire temporaries, but the “temps” could not fit into the team process.

Determining compensation is also more difficult than in a traditional compensation system that rewards individual performance. Here, the compensation system must support the group. XEL uses a three part compensation system. Part one sets an hourly wage based on the skills the employee has mastered. Part two includes merit increases based on team performances and peer reviews. Part three is profit sharing based on company performance.

One organization with an effective approach to individual performance evaluation of employees who are part of self managed teams is Digital Equipment Corporation’s Eastern Massachusetts Financial Management Center. In January 1992, the General Accounting Group, which had been reorganized into three teams, introduced a peer performance review process. They developed a form, the first portion of which was to be completed by the team member being reviewed. The team member was to summarize his or her role and note accomplishments before passing the form on to the other team members, who jointly answered the remaining questions concerning the team member’s performance. The questions solicited feedback on qualities such as initiative, leadership, creativity and sensitivity. After completing the form, the team members forwarded it to Barbara Cofsky, head of the group and the original promoter of the teams structures, who included key points in the team member’s performance appraisal. In addition, Cofsky met with each team members one–to-one to deliver the reviews. Already we have seen some benefits to the approach we are using in terms of increased awareness, sensitivity, and mutual support, noted Cofsky. We are trying to be careful in how we use these peer reviews so we don’t use them with the traditional management mind set of control and power, but, instead, we use them to support each other, build trust and openness and learn how to use each other’s strengths and tap into other’s interests and motivations.

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