What are Process Teams

Most companies are organized functionally: a planning department, a production department, a maintenance department etc. as demonstrated in fig 1

fig 1: The functional organization

This organisational structure is based upon the theory of Taylor who, at the beginning of this century, discovered that specialization results in enormous efficiency improvements.

A significant detail about this way of organizing is that the description of the contents and the purposes of the jobs at the different departments are fairly narrow. This division of labor means that each worker only does a very small part of the job. Thinking and doing are very much separated. To co-ordinate and organize the work specialized managers are appointed. Control systems and procedures are implemented to tune the divided labor.

The bad news about a structural organization however, is the likeliness of miscommunication about tasks, responsibilities and priorities between the various divisions and departments. This causes low response time, low cost control, low involvement of people and low problem solving ability.

Solving problems and misunderstandings only to often result in time consuming, futile discussions about responsibilities. Typical negative effects are:

  • Problems are being pushed forward or backwards to another department instead of being solved;
  • People clean up their own “alley”, at the expense of other departments (window-dressing).

It is clear that a company should not waste its energy playing internal power games. A Company will only thrive when its energy, knowledge and skills are focused on meeting the customer’s requirements.

An Improvement is necessary.

World Class Manufacturing demands better communication between these functional departments, especially the production department, the maintenance department, the planning department, the purchasing department and quality control. Tuning the communication between these departments is essential for establishing a reliable process.

Mix-ups in the “twilight zones” of responsibilities can be avoided with the introduction of “autonomous task teams” or “product teams” with clear goals and purposes. The organization from figure 1 is turned 90 degrees to create complete units incorporating all necessary functions (figure 2).

fig 2: Cross functional teams

Each team is responsible for the final result, either a product or a group of products. Therefore it is important that goals and assignments are clearly set: “Management By Objectives” (MBO). In order to check progression in assignments and achieving the goals, a measuring system has to be implemented, making results transparent..

A second prerequisite for the successfulness of autonomous teams is that the members of each team have sufficient information about and understanding of the problem. They will need support and trust to be able to take their responsibilities independently. Although this prerequisite seems to be a logically consequent on the first step, traditional managers experience it as a revolution.

Working in teams creates possibilities for job rotation, job enhancement and job enrichment. Teams are less vulnerable and offer the members the possibility of adjusting the job to their individual possibilities and ambitions. Employees become more involved with their work resulting in higher productivity, fewer mistakes and complaints, higher quality, reduction of through-put-time, etc.

From manager to coach

The role of the manager changes to coaching his team rather than assigning jobs and controlling work in progress. The coach should create the conditions for his teams in which they can fulfil the job independently and have a stimulating and consulting role. Decisions out of a team’s league are still the responsibility of the manager, he is still in charge but doesn’t have to occupy himself with details.

The manager will find his job more interesting with closer contact with their highly motivated and responsible employees. Within the companies implementing World Class Manufacturing in general are very enthusiastic and wish they started earlier.

Letting go of the traditional “based upon central decision- systems” requires guts.

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