ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

February 1999

Doctoring The Health Care Industry

A Toast To The Future

Business, The Final Frontier

Formula For Success: Balance Technology And People

Y2K Calling

by Peter Block

Have You Hugged Your Goalie Today?
by Bryan McGraw

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

The Quality Tool I Never Use

Sites Unseen

Book Review

Views For A Change

Jim Harrington answers:
In the 1970s American management lost confidence in the way they were managing their businesses as Japanese organizations began to take away their customers. The U.S. share of the world market was dropping rapidly and Japan's share was growing even more rapidly. As a result, corporations and consultants began looking at Japanese organizations to determine their secret.

As executives, consultants and academicians toured plants in Japan, one apparent difference was the Japanese quality circle movement. These "tourists” were quick to relate quality circles to building commitment to the organization and solving problems. They heard people like Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa tell them that the purpose of quality circles was to train employees, not to solve problems, but they didn't listen.

Slaying Dragons in the 80s
The 1980s were marked by a period of team and problem-solving training. Consultants made millions of dollars by training everyone in the organization on the seven basic tools and team methods. Natural Work Teams met weekly for one hour. These teams were then turned loose to find a dragon to kill. Every problem became an opportunity to form a team. Why should one person solve a problem if they could get seven people to work on it.

By the early 1990s management began to believe that a team of two develops an answer that is more than twice as good as one person would generate, that with a team of two, 1+1 = 3 instead of 2. The real truth of the matter is that usually with a team of two 1+1=1.2, not 2 or 3. A team of seven employees does not give you an answer that is seven times better than one person would generate but only 1.5 times better plus or minus 1.

By the mid 1990s management realized that the best-value solution was not always provided by teams. As a result, they switched their thinking around to use teams when a 10-50 percent better solution was required and justified a 700 percent increased investment in defining the corrective action. As a result,the training focus had moved from teams to individual creativity and empowerment as management began to rely more on the suggestion programs than the natural team approach to problem solving. This fell in line with the Japanese 1970s and 1980s results that indicated that 50 times more problems were solved using the Japanese suggestion program than quality circles.

Team-oriented vs. Teamwork-oriented Organizations
The next realization was that at least 80 percent of the problems an organization faced were caused by management and as a result could only be resolved by management. This meant that there were very few problems that the employee teams were capable of addressing. This has led to management placing more value on teamwork than on team problem solving. Let me explain the difference between a team-oriented organization and a teamwork-oriented organization with an over-simplified example.

Let's assume you're walking down an aisle and see a skid laying in the middle of the aisle. Of course, this is a potential safety situation that should be corrected. Now with the team-oriented organization the person that detects the problem would call a team meeting with representatives from trucking, industrial engineering, the nearest departmental manager, quality control and production control. Due to their busy schedule the first time they can get together is next Thursday at 3:00 p.m. At this meeting the problem is defined, a fishbone diagram is prepared and another meeting is scheduled for the following Tuesday to solve the problem. At the next meeting the group brainstorms ideas on how to get the skid removed from the aisle. After considerable discussion, it is the consensus of the team that trucking should send someone over to pick up the skid and store it in the warehouse. Now with a teamwork-oriented organization, when an individual recognizes the problem, he or she would ask a nearby employee to help them pick up the skid and move it out of the aisle.
Now that does not mean that there is no need for teams.

Low-performing organizations that have a low level of trust in the management team need to use employee teams to help build a feeling of trust and belonging.

Organizations that have a scarcity of creative employees need to have teams to come up with answers that are equal to the answers developed by a single creative individual. Teams are also effective when a small-percentage better solution provides a significant competitive advantage or when an extremely complex problem requires input from a number of viewpoints. In many cases teams have evolved away from problem-solving teams to communication teams which is an effective way to get involvement and expedite the many change processes that are going on within the organization.

Creativity and Empowerment: The Theme of Tomorrow
The team concept originated with athletic events where teams competed against each other. The primary purpose of the team was to defeat the other team. On the other hand, teamwork creates a non-competitive environment where everyone wins and no one loses. The 21st Century will be marked by organizations that value teamwork and use virtual teams that are formed instantaneously to quickly handle a problem and then disband. In place of team problem solving, the theme of the next generation will be creativity and empowerment.

John Runyan Responds

February '99 News for a Change | Email Editor
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