Team working has become significant nowadays when the technology or operating processes require ‘cellular’ working or considerable interaction between people carrying out different functions, but with a common purpose.
Effective team working is more important during periods of rapid change or crisis. An organization, which has to adapt quickly to its changing competitive, economic or social environ-ment, will rely upon good teamwork so that it can pool resources and respond fast to the new opportunities or threats.
The Significance of Teamworking
The tendency for organizations to become flatter as layers of manage-ment or supervision are stripped out creates the need for better teamwork. In these circumstances managers will have larger spans of control and will have to delegate more responsi-bility to their teams, who will be forced to coordinate their own work rather than rely upon their boss to do it for them. In this type of organization interdisciplinary project teams become more important. The instant availability of management information and the communication facilities provided by information technology assist’ informal teams to operate more efficiently.
At office or shop floor level autonomous work groups may be set up which are responsible for all aspects of their operation and may not have an appointed leader.
HRM policies should be designed to promote effective teamwork in the situations described above. This lesson examines how such policies can be developed and applied under the following headings:
approach to achieving good teamwork;
teamworking in action;
Teambuilding and interactive skills training.
Task and maintenance functions
The following functions need to be carried out in teams:
task – initiating, information seeking, diagnosing, opinion seeking, evaluating, decision making;
Maintenance – encouraging, compromising, peace-keeping, clarify-ing, summarizing, standard setting.
It is the job of the team leader or leaders to ensure that these functions operate effectively. Leaderless teams can work, but only in special circumstances. A leader is almost essential – whether official or self-appointed. The style adopted by the leader affects the way the team operates. If he or she is re-spected, this will increase the group’s cohesiveness and its ability to get things done. An inappropriately authoritarian style creates tension and resentment. An over-permissive style means that respect for the leader diminishes and the team will not function so effectively.
Developing team working: a seven-stage plan
The NEDO research therefore showed that team working could have substantial benefits. But, as Cannel (1992) notes, its introduction needs to be properly handled: there are several examples of failure, apparently because managements have rushed into change without sufficient fore-thought. Planning is essential, and the following paragraphs consider the stages necessary if team working is to be introduced successfully. What follows is based on the experience of garment manufacturers, but the stages should be similar in other sectors.
Stage 1: Initial preparation
Senior people in the company need to consider the reasons for introducing teamwork – for example, is it primarily to improve response times, or is reducing labour turnover and absenteeism just as important? Is it vital to have a potential throughput time of a day or less, or will a few days suffice? Is the extra cost, which is almost certainly involved in ultra-quick response, worth it?
Stage 2: Project planning
The American companies visited had one dedicated individual, or a team of managers, with the task of developing the project. They believed that if the job were given to someone with heavy day-to-day responsibilities, that person would be unlikely to give it the time it deserved, and the outcome could be failure. The individual or team needs to know that the project has the full support of senior people over the medium and long term, and that it is not simply seen as a ‘quick fix’. If a team is formed, it should include people from various disciplines; engineering, work study and personnel, for example.
Stage 3: Develop Plans
The individual or team responsible will need to develop ideas, which take time and require careful and formal planning. For example, the formation and composition of teams, training, pay systems, and the size and physical layout of groups need to be considered. Pre-production planning, which assumes greater importance because of the reduction of buffer stocks, also needs to be revised. Time should also be taken to develop consensus, particularly among middle managers and supervi-sors, who may feel that their authority is threatened. American experience suggests that six months from beginning planning to establish the first group is reasonable.
Stage 4: Communication
If a trade union is recognized, the relevant full-time official and shop stewards should be consulted as soon as possible and certainly well before the announcement to the workforce generally. If their support can be gained, it will help to sell the concept more widely and, of course, such consultation should continue at every subsequent stage.
After the planning stage, everyone will have to be told what is proposed. How the announcement is made will, to some extent, depend on the size of plant and what shift systems, if any, are operated. Making the announce-ment to a meeting of everyone in the factory has the advantage that they will all receive the same message, but a considerable disadvantage is that, in a large meeting, many people will feel unable to ask questions. The best way may be a combination of the factory-wide meeting, at which the announcement should be made by the chairperson or managing director to establish the commitment of senior people, followed by meetings of groups of around 20, involving the factory manager and project leader, at which there can be questions and discussion.
Whatever the manner of the announcement, the policy should be promising too much too soon should not raise one of openness and honesty, and undue expectations. The reasons for the proposed change need to be described (e.g. to increase speed of response, to improve quality). The advantages from the point of view of the workforce (e.g. more stable earnings, a more varied job) and the transitional arrangements (in particu-lar, training) should also be spelled out. The briefing should be supported with simple written material, perhaps in question and answer form.
Stage 5: Training
Virtually all the interviewees said that they wished they had carried out more training. In the USA, teamworking experi-ments have failed because of insufficient attention to training, which should have the following elements.
The first is managerial and supervisory training, which should take place before the first teams are established. American practitioners recommend at least ten two-hour training sessions over two or three weeks. Subjects could include teambuilding, communications, problem solving, motivation, quality and participative management.
The second element is operative training, which falls into three areas.
Team working and related skills. This had clearly been difficult for the companies visited. With teamworking, operatives need to communi-cate with each other more than previously and to establish consensus. One very American method is to get all team members to agree on a name for the team at an early stage. This, in itself, forces communica-tion, and the very process of coming to agreement can be used to draw lessons about cooperation and communication. Problem-solving exercises can also be used.
Technical issues. Team members also need to know something about machine maintenance, quality, line balancing and what one inter-viewee called ‘the relationship between time and money’. Here the practical approach – giving people stopwatches and calculators, and letting them work out real problems for themselves – may be more effective than theoretical training. Such training might be carried out before a group is actually set up early in its life. Supervisors might participate with teams in such training, to reinforce their changed role.
Multi-skilling. The firms visited believed that each team member should be able to carry out, say, three operations. Ultimately every team member should be able to do every job within the group. This has the additional advantage of enabling the group to cover for absence without using ‘floaters’. Multi-skilling can be achieved by conven-tional training, but one team member can also achieve it with a particular skill training perhaps two of his or her colleagues in it. This also helps to raise the self-esteem of the individual doing the training, and to develop team communication and cohesiveness.
Stage 6: Developing pilot teams
The companies visited had formed one or two teams initially, and then added new teams after six months or so. This gradualist approach enabled experiments (and mistakes) to be made. In the USA, the initial teams had mainly been formed from volunteers. This may be preferable to compul-sion, which can give the wrong message, and there is some truth in the old saying about the value of volunteers as against pressed men. Against this, there may come a point when the supply of volunteers will dry up, and to ensure that all teams are reason-ably balanced it may be best to co-opt people from the start.
Stage 7: Seeking results
The pilot teams that get developed now work for the objectives to be achieved. The voluntary team members perform their task and also supervise the ones who are made to work. Thus, both the objectives a) organizational goal and b) individual develop-ment are achieved.