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CASE VOLVO: Team Work in Sweden

In 1974, the Volvo Car Corporation built a new plant at Kalmar, specifically designed to
make life more pleasant for the workers and, eventually, to create a labor force that was
stable, well-trained, and highly motivated. This would, in turn, the argument went, yield
more and higher-quality cars per labor hour.
The Kalmar plant dispensed with Henry Ford's notorious assembly line along which
thousands of highly specialized workers perform the same task over and over again as
cars or car components move by them at a predetermined speed. The new plant was
constructed with many separate rooms, each with a separate entrance and large windows
to the world outside. Old union job classifications were abolished, along with the
common practice at conventional plants of workers standing idly by while waiting for a
fellow worker with the "proper" classification to perform a narrowly specified task.
Instead, all workers were treated as interchangeable, and each room was given to a team
of 15 to 25 workers who were made jointly responsible for performing, in a specified
time, a broadly defined task, such as electric wiring, door assembly, fitting upholstery, or
installing an exhaust system. In each room, there might be 60 different things to do to
finish the assigned task, and workers were free to decide how to do it and who did what
and when. (This also reduced the need for lower-level management, such as foremen.)
Once the task was done, the semi-finished car would move on to the next team, being
carried about the plant on computer-controlled trolleys.
Given a greater variety of work and greater responsibility, Volvo figured, workers would

have a chance to be creative as well. They would be happier at work and be less likely to
quit or pretend to be sick. (Indeed, the Kalmar plant was designed to improve the
workers' mood by being airy, light and quiet; and each team's workroom had easy access
to nearby saunas and lounges, complete with overstuffed chairs, coffee, and telephones.)
In addition, the absence of any one worker forced the remaining team members to work
harder, so there was social pressure for everyone to be there and do his or her fair share.
It is not surprising that the Kalmar plant soon had a steady stream of visitors from all
over the world. Here are some of the early reactions:
Peugeot: No chance whatsoever that the experiment will be emulated. Kalmar's
investment as well as operating costs are 30 percent higher than those at a conventional
plant in France.
General Motors: No desire to copy. The American Lordstown, Ohio, plant can produce
400,000 cars per year; Kalmar 30,000.
Ford: The experiment will, at best, have a gradual impact in America.
A group of American autoworkers: We do not like it at all. Team work requires constant
attention. On the assembly line, one can do a routine job and daydream, blocking out the
drudgery of work.
A German politician: We can't organize the country like one giant amusement park.

In the short run, Volvo's gamble seemed to pay off. Productivity increased sharply. By
1987, Volvo was constructing another plant at Uddevalla, taking the team concept to its

ultimate conclusion: Each team would assemble a complete car by itself. Ultimately,
though, Volvo's experiment failed, and both plants were closed. Costs had skyrocketed
as teams spent endless hours learning about conflict resolution and stress management
rather than producing cars. Indeed, by 1995, Volvo was producing cars at Gothenburg,
using a highly automated traditional assembly line and before the decade ended, Volvo
was owned by Ford!
Postscript: Despite Volvo's lack of success, the team concept did make its way to
America. The Japanese introduced the approach to America via the Toyota-GM venture
in Fremont, California. In no time at all, the new Japanese managers took workers
previously described as "difficult and sloppy" and persuaded them to produce top-quality
cars in teams. By 1987, the plant produced the same number of cars with 2,500 workers
as GM had produced with 5,000 workers.
Before long, everyone was talking of "reengineering" the firm, of creating "the
horizontal corporation" that is guided by an inspirational leader who holds together a
web of self-managed worker teams. By the early 1990s, almost 20 percent of U. S. firms
were operating under some version of the new system. Included in the list were AT&T,
Boeing, Chaparral Steel, Corning, Chrysler, Digital, DuPont, Eastman-Chemical,
Federal Express, General Electric, General Motors, Levi- Strauss, Motorola, Pepsi-Cola,
Procter & Gamble, Ryder Systems, Southwest Airlines, Xeroxindeed, fully one-half of
the Fortune 500 companies. Typically each team of workers was given full responsibility
for a "core process" that constituted a distinguishable part of the firm's total production

process. Each team became a semi-autonomous business unit or "profit center" that was
judged by measurable performance goals. Team members were empowered to arrange
for their own supplies, hire new workers, confront and fire sluggish performers,
eliminate unnecessary workers, create their own work schedules, order equipment
repairs, replace outdated machinery with state-of-the-art equipment, and, above all, talk
directly to customers and make them happy twenty-four hours a day.
Instead of rigid adherence to procedures set up by the boss, the new system of team
production encouraged team members to experiment, to be on constant lookout for small
improvements in their operation, and to improve the quality of their product.

Source: Adapted from Heinz Kohler, Economic Systems and Human Welfare: A Global
Survey (Cincinnati, OH: South-Western, 1997), pp. 278-279 and 411-413.

N.B.: The word Volvo closely resembles the Spanish word that means "I roll,"
symbolizing Volvo's desire to make transportation easier. The company's logo, a circle
with an arrow pointing out, is an ancient chemical symbol for iron. It's one of the oldest
ideograms in Western culture, and it's intended to depict modern design.

Read more:

In 1999, the Volvo Car Corporation was sold by its owner AB Volvo to Ford Motor Company. One
reservation was stipulated, however: that the brand name should be used also in the future by both Volvo
Cars and the rest of the companies in the Volvo Group.bThe brand name was consequently put into a
holding company, Volvo Trademark Holding AB, which is co-owned fifty-fifty by Volvo and Ford, and

whose management decides on how the name can be used and in what contexts. Currently, the holding
company's management group consists of Leif Johansson, President & CEO of AB Volvo and Bill Ford Jr,
Chairman & CEO of Ford Motor Company.

Material adicional recomendado para consulta:

Teamwork in the Automobile Industry

As one of the first sectors affected by the current phase of crisis in capital accumulation, the
automobile industry has had much to learn and now has much to teach. A recognition of the great
diversity of forms of adaptation introduced to face the uncertainties of the market, lead to the
formation of GERPISA and its international programme of research on the emergence of new
industrial models.
This book, a product of that research, is a valuable and timely insight into the innovations and
adjustments of some of the major vehicular manufacturers and through them into the future of
industry as a whole.
Introduction; J-P.Durand
The Historic Reversal of the Division of Labour? The Second Stage of the Toyota Production
System; H.Nohara
Nissan: Recent Evolution of Industrial Relations and Work Organisation; I.Saga & M.Hanada
'Saturn': Reengineering the New Industrial Relations; G.Cornette
A Factory which Remains Fordist: The Ford Dearborn Assembly Plant; S.Babson & J-P.Durand
(with P.Stewart)
Teams at NUMMI; P.Adler
Team Work in General Motors Brazil (GMB): What is Changing in the Organisation of Work?;
R.Marx & M.S.Salerno
The Effectiveness of Tradition: Peugeot's Sochaux Factory; J.-P.Durand & N.Hatzfeld
Transformation in the Team Work at Renault; M.Freyssenet
Teamwork and New Forms of Work Organization in Fiat 'Integrated Factory'; A.Camuffo &
The Negotiation of Change in the Evolution of the Workplace towards a New Production Model at
Vauxhall (General Motors) UK; P.Stewart
The Introduction of Teamwork at Rover Group's Stamping Plant: A. Mair
Manufacturing the Organization of Work of the Future: a Factory Leader in Engine Production,
FASA-Renault, Spain; J.J.Castillo
Volvo-Gent: A Third Way ?; R.Huys & G.Van Hootegem
The Swedish Model of Lean Production: the Volvo and Saab cases; G.Brulin & T.Nilsson
Team Work at Opel Antwerp; M.Albertijin, J.Vanbuylen & L.Baisier
Group Work in the German Automobile Industry: the Case of Mercedes-Benz; D.Gerst,
T.Hardwig, M.Kulmann & M.Schumann
Group Working at Volkswagen: An Issue for Negotiation Between Trade Unions and
Management; A.Labit
Conclusions; J-P.Durand, J.J.Castillo & P.Stewart


Jean-Pierre Durand
Juan-Jos Castillo

Paul Stewart

Ano de Publicao: 1998

Tipo: Organizao de obra publicada
Pas: Inglaterra
Idioma: Ingles
Meio de Divulgao: Impresso
Nmero do Volume: 1
Nmero de Pginas: 272
ISBN: 0333744829

Enriching Production: Perspectives on

Volvo's Uddevalla plant as an alternative
to lean production
Sandberg, ke (1995): Enriching Production: Perspectives on Volvo's Uddevalla plant
as an alternative to lean production. Published in:
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