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Team-based work systems - making it happen.

Team-Based Work Systems--Making It Happen

making team-based systems work in the real world requires more than just good intentions; five ingredients are essential to turn dreams into reality

Good intentions and management theory may sound fine in the conference room, but they don't always work on the production floor at three o'clock in the morning.

No concept has encountered more difficulty moving from theory to implementation than team-based work systems. The basic concepts sound great, but companies frequently don't know how to make these theories work in their plants.

Here are five ingredients we've learned that are essential to turn well intended dreams into reality.

Custom Fit

Each company in our industry is unique and requires a customized plan to fit its particular needs.

For example, most firms must achieve a quick return on their investment. That is, they have a low tolerance level for anything that doesn't produce results "yesterday." Therefore, it's important to focus the team-based improvement program on the biggest problems. This way, important business problems get solved on a parallel path with implementing a team-based work system.

This results-oriented approach, frequently utilizing a pilot cell, creates important short-term successes and provides confidence for continued investment (time, resources) in the transition.

Management Commitment And Skills

Team-based systems are a commitment to a non-traditional way of managing and require the active involvement of all levels of management. Employees throughout the organization must see their leaders actually "walking the talk."

This not only requires a high level of management commitment, it also requires additional skills, since most traditional organizations lack the specific management skills needed to effectively support a team-based work system.

We've found that developing a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) for each manager and supervisor in the organization can be a powerful springboard to quickly launch the leadership in the right direction.

These action-oriented PIP's target specific "survival skills" necessary to manage in a team-based environment. Addressing skills such as goal setting, planning, meeting leadership and communication skills early in the process assures that each manager is capable of fulfilling their new roll.

But most importantly, every manager meets individually with each subordinate each month to review their accomplishments, priorities and concerns relative to their PIP. This follow-up is vital to assure that each manager and supervisor is held accountable for developing and using the new skills.

Practical Thinking

Theoretical training approaches get bogged down in excess detail. Training must be supported by practical systems and procedures to assure the training is actually applied. We've found that a "team centered" learning process is the best technique to achieve fast, hard hitting training.

This process starts with the sharing of key team-based principles and experiences applicable to the selected topic. It then quickly moves to practical, hands-on techniques. Group discussions are used to answer questions and to insure a thorough understanding of the subject. Consider the following actual example:

In a recent training session on problem solving techniques, the first hour and a half was used to outline the various methods. During the morning break, I grabbed a stack of recent production reports and we used a simple check sheet to identify the most frequent problem. Then, following a quick brainstorming session, we defined the problem and developed a fishbone diagram. By lunch time, we had a plan-of-action to solve a "real" problem, plus the team understood how these new problem solving techniques could be applied to their actual operation.


Forming the actual teams is the most critical step in making a team-based system happen.

This involves team "focusing" sessions where the manufacturing teams are trained on the basics of a team-based organization, including specific skills such as goal setting and communication. As part of this process, each team creates their own Team Plan by prioritizing areas for improvement, developing action steps and assigning responsibilities and completion dates. This document then becomes the team's "road map" for the next six months.

Again, just like with the PIP's, regular follow-up is the key to making things happen. Each week, the teams review their actual results versus the goal and the person responsible for each results area reports on status, concerns, etc. (If necessary, corrective action is then taken to get performance or projects back on track.)

Also, teams or their supervisors are required to update the entire plant on their progress each quarter. This plant-wide exposure not only assures accountability, it provides upper management with an excellent opportunity to build momentum by highlighting and recognizing the teams that are making outstanding progress.

The Importance of Renewal: A System Can't Run Itself

No management system will run by itself and a team-based system is particularly delicate during the formative stages. Therefore, we've found it important to pause every four-six months to "renew" the implementation plans.

The renewal process starts by reassessing the overall progress-to-date, the training needs and the effectiveness of the training methods. Then, armed with this information, the plant is prepared to update their PIP's, training plans and team plans.

Repeating this process solidifies the learning and creates up-to-date plans for the future. This renewal process also provides the basis for roll-out of team-based systems to broader plant operations or pilot cells.

Tom Schuler, Richard Ducote, Jay Frankenfield and Adrian Bridge, of the consulting firm Schuler, Ducote, Frankenfield, write a series of monthly articles on Profitable Manufacturing--Using Manufacturing Leverage To Gain A Competitive Advantage in the Nonwovens Industry." These "how to" articles feature practical operations and engineering applications from their years of combined experience. SDF's offices are located at 6855 Jimmy Carter Blvd, Suite 2400, Norcross, GA 30071; (404)447-9750; Fax (404)448-7722.
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Title Annotation:making team-based systems work in the real world
Author:Ducote, Richard
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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