Assessing Organizational Readiness for Work Teams
Sondra Roberts (fonte)
Forming groups is a normal part of human social behavior. Organizations that recognize the impact of groups on productivity can use that knowledge to their advantage. Work teams are crucial to making companies more flexible, quality-conscious, and competitive. Organizations need to ensure that they are using an organizational structure that matches todays demanding business environment. The most important pre-requisite for uprooting an existing organizational structure in order to implement work teams is to ensure that there is an ample business imperative for the change. A number of questions can be asked as part of a basic assessment of an organizations readiness to change to work teams. If the answer to any of these questions is negative, appropriate action should be taken to rectify the situation before making the transition to work teams. Readiness assessments can help find out what people think and feel about the change to work teams, or what they know (or need to know) before the full implementation is started.
Assessing Organizational Readiness for Work Teams
Human Beings, the Social Animal
Regardless of whether or not organizations create formal groups to put workers in, we as humans tend to form informal groups within a firms formal structure. These informal groups are often more powerful than those that the organization creates. A classic illustration of this phenomenon comes from Mayos Hawthorne Studies that were conducted in Western Electrics Hawthorne plant during the mid-1920s and early 1930s. In one phase of these studies researchers hypothesized that the nature of the social relations among members of a work group was an influential motivator of work performance (Roethlisberger & Dickenson, 1950). To test their hypothesis the researchers studied three small groups of men who wired switchboard equipment to determine what kind of effect a piece-rate pay system would have on their performance. In the piece-rate pay system implemented, the workers were paid by the number of switchboard banks they wired. In the time period in which this study was conducted, it was common practice of managers to lower the rate of pay per piece if the workers produced at a level that was beyond what they wanted to pay them for. The researchers found that the workers, who were unaware that they were being watched, set up their own rules and regulations regarding productivity. In an effort to ensure that their pay per piece would not be reduced, the workers set a productivity goal that was just below what the company expected of them. Most of the workers in the study followed the group because they did not want their pay lowered. Those who tried to undermine the efforts of the group by working too hard or "slacking" off were coerced into going along with the group through corporal punishment or banishment by group members. The members of this informal group were so good at hiding what they were doing that their supervisors and mangers never noticed what was going on. In this case, the three small groups formally constituted by the researchers formed one informal group that was more powerful in enforcing work standards than the managers and their rules. Organizations that recognize the impact of groups on productivity can use that knowledge to their advantage.
Based on what we know about the nature of human beings and the fact that teams are a natural human phenomenon, existing even if organizations do not create them formally, it is surprising that the current growth in the use of teams in organizations did not arise sooner than it did. It is estimated that in 1995 only 17% of employees in the United States were working in teams. That number is predicted to nearly triple to 50% by the year 2000 (Katzenbach & Smith, 1993).
Reasons Demanding a Shift from "Business as Usual"
So why have we just recently started to shift from "business as usual?" In traditionally designed organizations workers do as they are told to do by their supervisors and are typically more concerned about their own needs than those of the organization. The workers are paid based on individual performance and have specialized job functions. This arrangement does not lend itself to the trust, creativity, or empowerment which are necessary in the partnerships that the current workforce demands. Todays workers have evolved from the submissive automatons of the Post-Industrial Revolution to self-actualizing beings of the Information Age. They no longer want to work for the company only to make money for survival, they want to work with the company to fulfill their own higher level needs.
Additionally, todays customers demand quality, variety, convenience, customization, and timeliness (Carnavale, 1991). A firm whose competitors are able to meet more of these demands than they are currently meeting should strongly consider making the transformation to work teams. Work teams are crucial to making companies more flexible, quality-conscious, and competitive. Organizations need to ensure that they are using an organizational structure that matches todays demanding business environment.
The Cost of Status Quo
The most important pre-requisite for uprooting an existing organizational structure in order to implement work teams is to ensure that there is an ample business imperative for the change (Burke & Koonce, 1997). Organizations need to determine whether or not it would cost them more in the long run to maintain the status quo than to make the switch to work teams. It takes a considerable amount of money to make the transformation to work teams in the beginning, but the long term returns include such benefits as lower costs, higher quality, increased productivity, reduced personnel, and lower turnover (Johnson, D., in class slide presentation, August 31, 1999).
When and When Not to Switch to Work Teams
There are specific measures that can be applied to judge whether an organization is prepared for the change to work teams. A number of questions can be asked as part of a basic assessment of an organizations readiness to change to work teams. If the answer to any of these questions is negative, appropriate action should be taken to rectify the situation before making the transition to work teams.
An "Organizational Readiness for Work Teams Survey" has been included in Appendix 1 to help assess whether or not an organization is ready to make the transformation to work teams.
Is the need to implement the change to work teams accepted as a business imperative? This factor, which was discussed earlier, is the over-riding necessity for making any organizational change. If the business case for the change is real and urgent, then the transformation will get the support of high level management which is essential for successful transition to the new environment (Ashworth, Chellew, & Towers, 1996). Without this visible leadership at the outset the switch is doomed to fail.
Have the required resources been made available to ensure that the change-over is implemented? Research indicates that support systems are highly correlated with team effectiveness (Sundstrum, 1999). The support systems which must be planned for include: training, leadership, working environment, group design, reward and measurements, communication, information, performance management and goal setting, and team integration (Hall, dissertation, 1998). Effective teams are continuously supported with these resources throughout their existence.
Time is sometimes overlooked as a necessary resource for a successful transformation to teams. Teams need to be provided with adequate time to learn and perform their new responsibilities. Some examples of the new duties that team members must learn to handle are problem solving, team performance evaluations, and hiring. Organizations should not switch to work teams until they able and willing to give their employees the recourses that are required for effective work teams.
Are employees ready to be empowered? Working in teams leads to increased autonomy, participation, and responsibility (Roller, 1999). These three dimensions appear to be particularly common to the construct of empowerment. An "Empowerment Readiness Survey" has been included in Appendix 2 to help assess whether or not the employees in an organization are ready to be empowered.
Autonomy refers to an individuals perception of self-control that he or she is able to use at work. For example, a work team that is allowed to set their own goals is autonomous. The team is allowed a high degree of freedom and control that they use to decide what to concentrate on accomplishing at work.
Participation is the extent that an individual believes that he or she is able to influence organizational decisions. Work teams that have access to top level management may feel that their opinions about organizational issues affecting them will be heard and taken into consideration by the "higher ups" (Hill & Stewart, 1999). This feeling of having a voice leads the team members to believe that they are participating in the organizations administrative or strategic decisions beyond their specific job requirements.
Responsibility is the degree of personal commitment an employee brings to their job. Responsible employees like to be held accountable for the jobs they do and the outcomes of the decisions they make (Roller, 1999). For example, teams are exclusively responsible for meeting their self-made goals. If they fall short of meeting these goals they do not blame their failure on their supervisors or managers.
Are the employees right for teams? Employees who want to develop themselves personally, or have a high "Growth Needs Strength" (GNS)(Hackman, 1990) are the best type of employees to have if an organization wants to make an effective transition to work teams. They appreciate the increased empowerment that comes with working in teams because it helps them meet their need for self-actualization.
Conversely, adapting to a team based environment may be difficult for employees with a low GNS. Some workers are not interested in the empowerment that comes with working in a team setting. These people would prefer to let management tell them what to do and how to do than to make their own decisions at work. Encouragingly, a low GNS employee may develop an intrinsic motivation to change when he or she is given additional information about the rewards associated with being a team member. For example, a team that makes the decision to have a 4 day work week may bring about a higher desire to develop personally in a low GNS employee. That employee may develop an internal motivation to be on the team because he or she would like to have an extra day off from work every week.
Employees with an internal locus of control, who believe that what they do determines what happens to them in life, can also aide in the successful transformation to teams in an organization. These people appreciate the autonomy that they feel when working in a work team because they like to make their own decisions. The increased focus on self determined goals may lead to greater job satisfaction for internally motivated employees.
On the other hand, employees with an external locus of control may have trouble making the transition to work teams. These types of people, who believe that they have no control over their destiny, usually perform better in autocratic settings. They prefer to be controlled by management rather than make their own decision because they dont believe that they can always make good decisions.
Are the employees interdependent? The setting that is most amenable to work teams is one in which employees must work with each other to get their jobs done. Interdependent members of a team can accomplish certain aspects of their jobs on their own, but are dependent on other units in the organization to get their work done (Russell, p.27).
Sometimes the requirements of a task are too complex for a single individual to handle. Different team members contribute different knowledge and skills. In this case, the team is more than the sum of its parts--the team can do things that the individuals working singularly cannot. Interdependence can be rated by the extent to which one team member is directly dependent on every other member of the team to get his or her work done (Seachore, Lawler, Mervis, & Cammann, 1983).
There must be a good reason to make any organizational transition (Beckhard & Harris, p.26). Organizations whose employees do not depend on each other at all to get their jobs done have no reason to make the transition to teams. It takes additional effort to work in a team, so it is important to know that there will be a benefit from a team effort.
Is there little likelihood that momentum during the switch will be lost due to the departure of the champion? It typically takes between 2 to 5 years to completely switch an organization to work teams. Unfortunately, executives often move around a lot. New leaders that take the place of old champions may have new philosophies about how the organization should be run (Hitchcock & Willard, 1995). One way to avoid the turmoil that may arise in this situation is to make sure that the out-going champion selects and trains a new champion a few months before he or she leaves. That way the incoming leader will be able to carry on the old leaders advancements. An alternative may be to start with two sponsors (Ashworth, et. al., 1996). The morale of employees, and therefore the ultimate success of the switch to work teams, is at stake when top level management moves around a lot in an organization.
Will the transformation to work teams be implemented throughout a majority of the company? Work teams that are implemented in isolation from the rest of the company may be sabotaged by their suspicious co-workers in other areas of the organization. This "corporate immune function" phenomenon has been likened to the white blood cells that seek and destroy foreign viruses in the human body(Hitchcock and Willard, p.155). If the work team is seen by non-work team employees as bad, or different, the organization will eventually devour them. The environment in which teams will operate in the organization must be receptive to the transformation.
Furthermore, teams are not just for the "working people." Middle level management that is not involved in the progression of transforming to work teams can wreck the process. An organization that has a strong champion and steering committee in place, but fails to include middle level management in the training and development of work teams may be sabotaging its own efforts. Middle level management may listen to what the steering committee tells them but never pass it on to work teams and design teams. Ultimately, the success of work teams depends on participation from every person at every level of the organization.
Efforts often fail when the rate or direction of change outpaces the capability of the individuals to respond to the changes. Readiness assessments can help find out what people think and feel about the change to work teams, or what they know (or need to know) before the full implementation is started.
Assessments of an organizations readiness for the transformation to work teams can serve as a basis for creating the road map for change efforts. Knowing where you are as well as where you are going will improve the results and provide for more successful change implementation.
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