Team players: Employee groups manage themselves, and it works
Date: May 29, 2010
The Winnipeg Free Press
The concept of self-directed and self-managed teams has been around for quite some time and while an increasing number of companies have adopted this practice, traditional hierarchal organization designs are still more common than not.
The whole purpose of this style of leading and managing is to go beyond quality circles, where problems are resolved in ad hoc groups, to a place where frontline employees are fully involved in the daily management of their work.
In other words, self-managed teams engage in tasks that have typically been reserved for supervisors and managers -- and why not?
If you look closely at your employee complement, many individuals have additional responsibilities outside their daily job. They may be volunteer treasurers for the local community club. They may be Scout, Girl Guide or church leaders. And in this capacity, they often lead teams, manage budgets, assess organizational problems and make important decisions that affect a larger group.
On a personal basis, each of them has probably made careful life decisions such as researching and deciding to buy a new home or a car. On the other hand, some people just have a lot of natural talent that never gets recognized in the workplace. So, why is it that many organizations are reluctant to implement a self-directed or self-managed team concept?
Well, at least one local manufacturing company has seen the light and capitalized on a whole team of internal talent -- and young talent at that. Precision Metalcraft, a manufacturer of metal cabinets, consoles and enclosures for electronics, food and medical industries, has taken advantage of the natural talent of a group of four team leaders who are running an entire plant by themselves. They report results to their senior manager and ask for help only when needed. Another unique element of this group of team leaders is that they all offer natural leadership talent combined with both visionary and operational strengths.
Leah Labossiere, Sandy Stadnyk, Mike Sidoryk and Katie Butler each recognized early in their career that while they were good communicators, they felt best suited to working with their hands in a fast-paced environment. After trying several other customer service-related jobs, each soon ventured into manufacturing and found their niche.
They learned their tasks quickly and before they knew it, they were making suggestions for improvement, taking on additional responsibilities and motivating their peers. Moreover, they became known for their skill in getting the job done on time and to the delight of customers.
Their skill, positive attitude, production management strengths, their ability to see the big picture and their innate ability to quickly adjust priorities were recognized by Graham Moore, senior vice-president of operations. Within a short time, an opportunity arose to replace the plant manager. Moore recognized that the four young employees, already working as informal team leaders, were his best choice for managing the plant. The offer was made and accepted and the rest is history.
Each team leader was assigned a production area that focused on their strengths. Labossiere, for instance, was a natural to undertake the human resource tasks as she can motivate the employees as well as effectively coach people through performance issues.
Stadnyk, on the other hand, was seen as the world's best organizer and is proud of the systems she designed to ensure that work is done well and on time. Butler, currently on maternity leave, excels at developing manufacturing process performance and the continuous improvement of employee skills. Sidoryk, the lone male on the self-managed team, excels in the role of expediting and thrives on the challenge of changing priorities.
The team begins its day with an employee huddle and talk about production schedules and issues. As problems arise, the leadership team quickly gets together to reschedule and reorganize to ensure that sufficient resources are applied to jobs at the right time and at the right stage of production.
There has been a lot of research on the benefits of self-managed teams and certainly the benefits are clearly seen at Precision Metalcraft. First of all, the enthusiasm exhibited by these young leaders is difficult to miss. Their pride shows through their smiles, their voice, their body language and, of course, through the hard number results they have been able to achieve.
It's motivating just to hear them describe their jobs and the sense of accomplishment they feel as a high productivity team. They are truly in their element -- they are excelling at what they are good at and what they like to do. How fortunate to find their ideal job at such a young age.
Kingsley Bowles, president of Precision Metalcraft, suggests that the accomplishments achieved by this young team and their ability to quickly facilitate organizational change are proof that self-managed teams are the way to go in the future.
However, at the same time, Bowles indicates that self-managed teams must be fully supported by a "learning organization" philosophy. As a result, these Precision team leaders are enrolled in the Work Based Managerial Certificate Assessment Plan offered through the Canadian Manufactures and Exporters.
This new program includes a prior learning assessment on each of 12 manufacturing manager standards set by the association. The team leaders closely examine and assess themselves and prepare evidence to demonstrate specific manufacturing knowledge and skills. The standards include technical elements such as operations, materials management, scheduling, and budgeting as well as human resource management, problem solving, decision-making and leadership. Each team leader's portfolio of evidence is examined by an assessor who then makes recommendations for individual improvement if this is required.
Their role as an empowered, self-managed team leader, the strong support of senior management at Precision Metalcraft and the involvement in the Managerial Assessment Certificate have these young leaders just grinning from ear to ear. The confidence, the enthusiasm, the sense of accomplishment and the pride they exhibit is truly a sight to see.
With so much proven success and clear evidence that self-managed teams leads to improved processes, synergy and employee empowerment, I wonder why more companies don't give it a try.