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Team-based work systems are vital, but they are not easy.

The nonwovens and disposables markets demand that companies employ world class production methods, especially team-based work systems, to be competitive.

Yet, too many companies are disappointed with the lack of tangible benefits associated with team-based work systems. One executive recently commented, "We spent over $100,000 for team training, but I'm not sure I can see any difference in the bottom line."

The basic concept behind a team-based work system is very simple: People working together in teams can accomplish more than people working as isolated individuals.

So why do companies struggle implementing a concept that sounds simple?

Typically, the major difficulties center around a lack of understanding and commitment from the top of the organization and a lack of management skills. Also, in some cases, an additional obstacle is lack of trust between management and hourly employees or a history of outright labor/management strife.

Nevertheless, as team-based systems have become more common, progressive companies have learned to anticipate these problems and overcome them through careful planning, active management, employee participation and the use of outside experts.

But even after these difficulties are overcome, two more subtle issues often block the success of team-based work systems:

1. lack of results orientation

2. ineffective supervisory roles.

Results Orientation

First, a team-based work system must focus on the desired outcomes, not the activities.

Some companies implement a team-based work system because it seems like the "right thing to do." They focus on the process of training and building teams rather than on the desired outcome of improving their business. They mistakenly believe that developing teamwork will automatically lead to better results.

Don't be afraid to tell your employees that you expect the team concept to improve quality, increase production and reduce waste. The company is not investing time and resources merely so people will cooperate with each other and "feel better."

However, make it clear to your organization that team-based work systems are not a way to manipulate people so that they "work harder." Merely trying to work harder will not generally improve manufacturing results. Rather, the team concept is a way for people to "work smarter" by working cooperatively.

As we've discussed in earlier articles, this "working smarter" starts with empowering the teams through goal setting sessions and a highly participative process to develop team improvement plans.

Once the teams "own" the goals via the goals setting process and team improvement plans, management must help the teams track their performance and sustain their goal orientation by providing measurement systems so employees can see how they are doing.

We've found that visibility of goals on the production floor is key to tracking performance and sustaining the team's focus on the goals. Posting a large hand-drawn chart in the work area is much more effective than even the fanciest computer-drawn charts, which are kept in the office and studied by managers.

Also, goals should be targeted to deliver initial improvements quickly, within a few weeks or months, not years. If too much time is spent getting ready to improve, people lose their enthusiasm before they can see the benefits.

In large organizations, where conducting basic team-based training for everyone could be quite lengthy, we've found that it is best to begin with one department or "pilot cell" and then expand the team concept to other departments in phases.

This pilot cell gets results quickly and builds a momentum and enthusiasm that will carry over to subsequent departments. Additionally, a phased or pilot cell approach allows you to learn from early experience and modify the plans to improve the subsequent phases.

If you implement a team-concept and the results do not improve, something is wrong. A results-driven approach will quickly identify that something is not working so you can take corrective action. Don't be a slave to the methodology; analyze the problem and adapt your plans to suit the situation.

I recently worked on a project where we had a great PLAN and everything was proceeding according to PLAN--except production was not improving. However, because the program was results-driven, we quickly diagnosed several unanticipated problems and modified our original plan to fit the company's unique situation. This focus on results forced the organization to be creative and not merely follow the original plan.

Remember, implementing a team-based system is like planning a trip. You must start with a clear destination. If you don't know where you are going, you won't get there. For an effective team-based organization, focus on achieving clear, measurable, results-oriented goals.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Rodman Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Profitable Manufacturing
Author:Frankenfield, Jay
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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