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Work team performance over time: three case studies of South African manufacturers
Anton W. Grütter a,∗ , Joy M. Field b,1 , Norman H.B. Faull c,2
Department of Management, University of the Western Cape, P.O. Box X17, 7535 Bellville, Cape Town, South Africa b Wallace E. Carroll School of Management, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA c Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, Private Bag, 7701 Rondebosch, Cape Town, South Africa
Abstract In this paper, we report on three case studies of South African manufacturing ﬁrms that made signiﬁcant efforts to implement shopﬂoor improvement teams. Following Meredith’s [J. Operat. Manage. 16 (1998) 441] suggestion to use case studies as a basis for theory formulation, insights from the cases were used to extend existing theory by generating hypotheses pertaining to the timing and sustainability of performance gains following the implementation of performance improvement teams, focusing, in particular on ongoing performance improvement teams. Because of the richness of the case study data, we delve deeper than other studies into the actions of teams and management to better understand how and why successful performance improvement teams evolve as they do. Stated in temporal order, our main hypotheses are: work team engagement is positively associated with early implementation credibility-building activities; both outcome-orientation and substantive participation are positively associated with a rapid rate of performance gains; and team institutionalization is positively associated with sustaining performance gains. The ﬁndings of the case studies and the associated hypotheses are summarized in a time-phased framework for work team implementation. Limitations and directions for further research are discussed. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
JEL classiﬁcation: M11 business administration: production management Keywords: Work teams; Manufacturing; Case study research
1. Introduction The realization that constructive involvement of shopﬂoor employees is critical to the success of operations—in particular, operations managed on the basis of the principles of management approaches such as world class manufacturing (WCM) (Schonberger, 1996) or lean production (Womack and
∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +27-21-959-3682; fax: +27-21-959-3219. E-mail addresses: email@example.com (A.W. Grütter), ﬁeldjo@bc.edu (J.M. Field), firstname.lastname@example.org (N.H.B. Faull). 1 Tel.: +617-552-0442; fax: +617-552-0433. 2 Tel.: +27-21-406-1433; fax: +27-21-406-1096.
Jones, 1996)—has led to a continuing interest in work teams by practitioners and researchers. This paper attempts to identify the key characteristics of the successful implementation of performance improvement work teams at three manufacturing ﬁrms in South Africa and to distil them into a number of hypotheses related to their effect on performance over time. The research arose out of the Best Practice Initiative (BPI) of the Manufacturing Roundtable, a research unit at the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town. The objective of the larger project was to research the adoption of shopﬂoor improvement teams and to disseminate the capability to improve shopﬂoor work practices by way of training workshops and the
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g. the three cases provide an opportunity to better understand implementation differences between ongoing and project-oriented improvement teams. Researchers have found that inputs to the teams. or other kind of performance outcome.. such as role and goal clarity. we aim to understand. while incorporating the contributions of previous frameworks. 1988). the second phase of research is intended to test the hypotheses generated in the ﬁrst phase by way of further case studies complemented with quantitative data. while a number of theoretical frameworks exist that are either explicitly or implicitly suggestive of the longitudinal nature of work team implementation (e. implementation environments. In the third case. 2001. the teams were permanent shift-based teams that met at the beginning or during their shifts. These frameworks are suggestive of the importance of a common understanding of the role and goals of the teams between the teams themselves and the organization in which they operate. and organizational support. the teams were non-permanent teams that undertook process or work practice improvement assignments as part of a permanent program of process improvement by these teams. all cases have been judged as successful examples of work team implementation. With the exception of a few studies (e. Most of the theoretical models reviewed by them have an input–process–output (I–P–O) structure in which the constructs and relationships are represented in varying degrees of complexity.. 1993) for work teams were not applied. 1984. In two of the cases. which common characteristics can help explain this. Thereafter. However. rewards and (dis)incentives. Gladstein. rigorous qualifying criteria (Katzenbach and Smith. the objective of the teams was to improve operational performance. the frameworks do not speciﬁcally address ongoing performance improvement work teams that are found in most manufacturing environments and. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 reporting of research ﬁndings (Faull et al.g. Yeatts and Hyten. The ﬁrst and third cases are characterized by team “continuity” in terms of their membership and long-term orientation. In the ﬁrst phase. The word “shopﬂoor” refers to teams that work mostly in direct production.642 A. the performance improvement mandate underlying the formation of the non-permanent teams is.. a permanent feature of the environment. Other differences among the cases include varying managerial tactics of implementation. While the second case lacks these types of continuity. Grifﬁn. 1996). “Teams” can exist for a few days or many years. whether in terms of productivity. Mohrman and Novelli. in fact. 1996. time-based. . quality. excludes strategic management and other teams at higher organizational levels. increasingly. Thus. 1985.W. 1984. One purpose of the ESIT study was to gain insights into the longitudinal nature of operational performance following the implementation of performance improvement teams. This paper does not report on the second phase of research. “Improvement” is any change of the production process or work practices to improve an operational performance parameter. Grütter et al. we used case studies to document the experience at ﬁrms where signiﬁcant efforts had been made to implement performance improvement teams. and work team composition. Marks et al. The ubiquity of ongoing performance improvement work teams requires a theoretical framework that. In all cases. In this study. Literature review A review of existing frameworks relating work teams to operational performance can be found in Yeatts and Hyten (1998). in service environments as well. Yet. The case studies reported on in this paper were researched as part of the Effectiveness of Shopﬂoor Improvement teams (ESIT) project which arose out of the BPI to speciﬁcally investigate the role of shopﬂoor improvement teams on operational performance. 2. Banker et al. for the purpose of this phase of the investigation. It was decided to undertake the research in two phases. Further. 1998). Comparing the three cases provides a basis for developing hypotheses associated with performance improvement teams. should be in alignment with the organizational goals in order to achieve the desired outputs (Gladstein. despite the differences among these teams. The objective of this phase was to extend current theory by generating hypotheses of what makes for effective teams over time. empirical research on the effect of work teams on operational performance over time is sparse. and therefore. resource availability. is tailored to these teams and directly informs the actions of both the team members and management.
Mohrman and Novelli’s ﬁrst model). (1996). as suggested by Marks et al. 2001.A.e. As with the other empirical studies cited earlier. Tanskanen et al. Anderson et al. learning from a previous action cycle can serve as an input into the next action cycle. the work team environment. In the ﬁrst model. participation (stakeholder representatives determine change features). on the introduction and early implementation of changes. and edict (sponsors issue directives requiring adoption). it is necessary to address these issues. However. and actions of the team and management—all of which. process.e. For example. However.. 2001). which found that while job satisfaction increased in most of the studies of employee participation that they analyzed. p. They proposed that the introduction of work teams could be viewed as a “soft” technology. they found improved job performance in only a minority of the studies. with mixed results for the other tactics. As such. Nutt ﬁnds the highest success rate for the intervention tactic. on quality circles.W. While the I–P–O structure points to a longitudinal process. thereby most likely improving its performance outcome.g.. 1996). the performance “trajectory”). in particular.. Outputs from earlier cycles can serve as inputs to subsequent cycles after transition periods in which the team evaluates the outcomes of the previous action (i. 1998). 1995. they do not address the changing nature of the inputs. Mohrman and Novelli (1985) propose two general models of the causal relationship between work team processes and performance outcomes. In terms of the cumulative performance over time. in light of Lawler and Mohrman’s (1989) report that initiatives to introduce quality circles tend to fade after an initial “honeymoon” period of 18–24 months. 1983. (2001) suggest environmental and team characteristics that promote sustainable performance gains include mandated team membership. Yeatts and Hyten. Focusing. Despite the contributions these models make to understanding the processes by which work teams achieve performance gains. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 643 Hackman. Latham and Steele. and outputs as the team matures. The framework is based on the idea that teams perform in goal-directed I–P–O cycles or “episodes” where episodes are deﬁned as “distinguishable periods of time over which performance accrues and feedback is available” (Marks et al. implementation of improvement ideas is the precursor to productivity improvement.e. including implementation by intervention (key executives justify the need for change). 1998). Further. Klein and Sorra. In a follow-up study exploring the sustainability of performance gains. team characteristics.e. Measuring success as the adoption of the change. Banker et al. taskwork) cycle. these frameworks do not address the cyclical nature of ongoing performance improvement teams that move from project to project as previous projects are completed. Nutt (1986) delineates four general categories of implementation “tactics” (i. 1996. In their work. they do not address longitudinal issues such as the timing and sustainability of performance gains (i. This need is further highlighted by the results of a meta-analysis study by Locke and Schweiger (1979).. performance outcomes would be subject to the same S-curve phenomenon associated with performance gains over time experienced with the introduction of “hard” technologies. job satisfaction and worker motivation are presumed to lead to improved productivity. the issues of timing and sustainability of performance gains require a more detailed understanding of the work team environment. persuasion (experts attempt to sell a change they devise). 1987. (2001). One recent framework that incorporates the cyclical nature of ongoing performance improvement teams is the recurring phase model of team processes (Marks et al. team characteristics. and actions of the team and management all impact the timing of the performance trajectory. are changing over time. In the second model.. this framework is consistent with the performance improvement “S-curve” (Banker et al. One study that speciﬁcally addresses the timing of performance gains following work team implementation and the moderating effects of work team environment and team characteristics over time is Banker et al. in which teams get better at making performance improvements as they mature. 359). Grütter et al. Most empirical evidence tends to support the ﬁrst model (e. While the study by Mohrman and Novelli (1985) and subsequent empirical research support the critical role of work teams for implementing improvement ideas for achieving performance gains. inputs) used by managers. . they found that performance gains stemmed directly from the implementation of improvement ideas (i.
the previous government followed a policy of inward industrialization with the purpose of becoming self-sufﬁcient in most of its industrial needs. in two of the three cases. the case studies are reported. and these initiatives were also seen as a form of social empowerment. Finally. Meredith suggests that case study and ﬁeld research are better suited to generating or extending theory because these research methods help the researcher to understand the principles underpinning the events and mechanisms identiﬁed by rationalist research. Meredith (1998) contrasts rationalist and case research and characterizes the two approaches as objective versus interpretative. most shopﬂoor employees were black. 3. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 decision-making authority. Second. A number of researchers suggest a case study approach when. we studied the introduction of a team-based work organization on a high-volume bottling line that runs continuously. Among many other consequences. conclusions. 1993). theory development is the primary objective (Glaser and Strauss. Increased competition and the inﬂuence of multinational ﬁrms led to an increase in the adoption of contemporary operations management approaches. For this purpose. BoxCo fabricated and assembled jet engine gearboxes. and proceeds primarily by means of methodologies based on quantitative analysis. tariff reductions have also led to stiff competition from overseas ﬁrms. and management involvement and support. DrinksCo was one of the packaging plants of a manufacturer of beverages. Other than these challenges. case study based hypotheses are delineated. primarily because operational performance improvement was expected from involving shopﬂoor employees in process improvement initiatives. However. The paper is organized as follows. The three operations chosen for the case studies represented different process types to extend the scope of the investigation. Rationalist research focuses on explaining what happens and how. and poor industrial relations. As a consequence. 1967). as in this case. However. Since the early 1990s. First. All the ﬁrms where the case studies were conducted were well-established manufacturers with large complements of shopﬂoor employees. and employment in the manufacturing sector has fallen badly behind the growth in new entrants to the job market (Bhorat and Hodge. Prior to the political emancipation of the country. By contrast. case studies may actually be the best way to examine highly varied implementation situations. there were no other initiatives such as the introduction of new technology. the three companies studied operated in much the same way as conventional ﬁrst world corporations. the strength of rationalist research is to test theory by conﬁrming or disproving the predictions made on the basis of theory. The involvement of black shopﬂoor employees was a major challenge. such as those found with shopﬂoor improvement teams (McCutcheon and Meredith. this led to the isolation of the South African manufacturing industry. Third. Case study and ﬁeld research aim at understanding why phenomena happen and use both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis. Further. a brief discussion of the South African national context and ﬁrm speciﬁc circumstances is presented. At DrinksCo. While the introduction of teams formed part of larger organizational restructuring initiatives at DrinksCo and BoxCo.W. contributions to the literature. local companies were late in the adoption of contemporary operations management approaches such as world class manufacturing (WCM) and lean production. For example. the country was subject to international sanctions. All the plants were unionized. CarCo was a vehicle assembler. given the historical under-investment in the education of black people. The intent of this study is to delve still deeper into the actions of the team and management to better understand how and why successful performance improvement teams evolve as they do. and future research directions are offered. Also. we examine the cases of three South African manufacturers that implemented performance improvement teams. 1999).644 A. a policy of export orientation has been adopted and was reﬂected in South Africa becoming a signatory to the World Trade Organization’s regime of tariff reductions. limitations. employee involvement was seen as particularly important. Grütter et al. that signiﬁcantly affected the performance outcomes. The South African and ﬁrm context Developments in South African industry generally reﬂect the socio-political context of the time. In the three companies studied. The case study at CarCo focused on its program of team-based workshops aimed at making process .
At BoxCo. When they returned to the line. a performance management system was implemented. A talent audit throughout the company (which included a component on propensity for teamwork) identiﬁed high potential individuals from the shopﬂoor. The ﬁnal draft of each of the cases was sent to the senior manager responsible for the area in which the research was conducted to check factual accuracy and authorize release of the case. It was known as a progressive company with a reputation for seeing projects through and was held in high regard by analysts. A representative steering committee was formed where all obstacles to the implementation of the initiative were dealt with. Maintenance and quality staff were incorporated into the shift teams. These employees requested. The primary data consisted of handwritten notes of open-ended interviews with the managers most directly involved in the initiatives. Therefore. The cases are based on ﬁeldwork by one of the authors who visited the three ﬁrms several times over a period of 2 years to collect data. during the planning phase a study group consisting of management and employee representatives went on a study tour to overseas plants and the International Labor Organization. Team meetings were observed. At the same time. and received. If the problem . An integrated management process. DrinksCo DrinksCo held the dominant market share in the country. 4. Company documents and performance data were also collected and studied. 4. with a total of approximately 600 employees. pay at the highest grading in lieu of their shift-work bonus while they were being trained. The case studies Summaries of the three case studies are presented later. Prior to the changes. which incorporated an annual planning cycle. For instance.A. although wage costs increased due to the higher job grades in the new structure. we documented the implementation of teams responsible for machining the components of aircraft gearboxes. This led to a production upgrade initiative. The union at the plant. Benchmarking against plants overseas led to the conclusion that a similar or better level of performance could only be achieved with people with higher skill levels and a team-based work organization. Grütter et al. Team members were certiﬁed to run all the machines according to the BOP. and the team leader and members were interviewed in their work environment. improved communication with employees. and problem-solving as well as shift hand-over meetings were introduced.W. was consulted before the process to change the work organization commenced. The 60 employees on the pilot line were divided into four shift-based teams to run the line on a 24/7 schedule. the number of people on a shift was reduced by 28%. The introduction of a new work organization on the high-speed ﬁlling line of the DrinksCo plant was one of the ﬁnal phases of an unfolding strategic plan by the company that started several years earlier with the formulation of a manufacturing strategy for the company’s operations. The company management emphasized from the outset that the initiative was considered essential to the future of the business. the new team-based work organization was introduced. which initially focused on quality and later evolved to a WCM initiative encompassing the documentation of best operating practices (BOP). all employees of the company were given basic education and work skills training where necessary to address the poor skill level of the workforce. At the same time. although a lot of effort was made to involve employees early in the process. The teams themselves determined their work allocation. support staff (such as human resource managers and training staff). The company also agreed to pay for consultants to advise the union on how to respond to the restructuring proposals. they were dealt with on the spot where possible. They were taken off normal production for several months and given extensive training in machine operation. as well as to perform basic quality and maintenance checks in their section. its implementation was driven hard. When production problems occurred. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 645 improvements on an assembly line. process quality and performance maintenance. The full case studies are available from the corresponding author.1. and union representatives. The company made a big investment in the individuals who were assigned to pilot the new team-based form of work organization on one of the ﬁlling lines before all the other lines were also re-organized into teams. and the principles of world class manufacturing. interpersonal skills.
Shift hand-over meetings between team leaders were instituted to facilitate communication between teams. For example. Human resource development and industrial relations policies were changed and re-negotiated to accommodate team-based work organization requirements. where it was required. Grütter et al.g. the line manager facilitated team meetings. . a suggestion was made to make special setting tools permanently available at the machine. the steering committee addressed them at the same time as the new work organization was being implemented. The context in which the teams operated also changed. from “shift supervisor” to “team leader”). Getting the line performance to improve was not easy or quick. and there were a number of disagreements— even heated exchanges—among team members until the new work order settled down. performance assessment for shopﬂoor employees was introduced. The new work relations took time to establish. For instance. after a year of working in the new way. and shift schedules were changed. Initially. The responsibility for resolving each gap was assigned to team members. job speciﬁcations and titles were changed (e. To make provision for negotiating these issues. the technician responsible delayed acting (but eventually did act) on the recommendation. but he soon scaled down his involvement. with the status discussed at further meetings until it was resolved. Relations between the team members and the rest of the work force at the plant were not easy either. Improvement recommendations were logged and followed-up until implemented or escalated up to a multi-disciplinary team at the next higher level of management for resolution. The team identiﬁed performance “gaps” and proposed solutions or the need for more information. pay grades were re-negotiated. because he was concerned that the machine would be set incorrectly. the team members took to the new responsibilities devolved to them. However. Operating efﬁciency at DrinksCo. It took time for skilled employees who previously setup machines to share responsibilities.W. Figs. whereas a strong collective bargaining ethic still prevailed among the rest of the workforce. 1 and 2 show that indicators Fig. and it was said by one of the team members that he appreciated the management support. They were involved in their suggestions being acted on. Despite the initial problems. it would be taken up at the team meetings. As this was the pilot line for the new form of work organization in the company. all the related policies and job-grading systems had not yet been decided by the time teamwork was being implemented. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 could not be resolved at that time. The team members were perceived to have become part of an elite group with better job prospects.646 A. Regular team meetings took place in paid time where discussion centered on performance review and process improvement. 1. In spite of the above-mentioned difﬁculties. Even the motives of the technician who delayed making the setting tools available were accepted as well-intentioned after being discussed in the team meeting.
They met intensively for 3–5 days to investigate. The relevant staff and production employees (on average 12 employees per workshop) were then assigned to the workshop. such as factory efﬁciency and cullet (broken glass) waste had improved substantially. Subsequent to the period for which data was collected. Cullet waste at DrinksCo.2.W. The implementation of this solution resulted in signiﬁcantly improved quality of these parts. At the time of the initiative. An example of a workshop project was addressing the problem of a supplier of pressed fender/bonnet/etc. The line manager chose the problem or the area in which the workshop was to be conducted. and how to report the results of the workshops to the parent company. its implementation was negotiated with the union and an agreement had to be made that employees who became redundant as result of the improvement workshops would be re-deployed elsewhere in the plant. However. The team’s solution was to arrange to bring back the maintenance of the dies to the maintenance shop at the assembly plant. it was readily accepted and was high on the list of the local company’s strategic objectives.000 vehicles per year on ﬁve platforms (i. The local plant then established an ofﬁce with one full-time industrial engineer and an assistant to administer the program. The team determined that the source of the problem was poor maintenance of the dies for the parts at the vender. Annual targets for a certain number of improvement workshops to take place in the plant were decided. Several years ago. as did all of its plants around the world. as the originating team had the authority to get their suggestions implemented. Upon completion. vehicles built on the same basic chassis). analyze and decide (by using continuous improvement tools such as Pareto analysis and cause-and-effect diagrams) what actions to take. Three years after the program started. a team-based method of workshops aimed at production process improvement was developed at the company headquarters. After initially training full-time facilitators. 4. This made it a medium-sized plant with a high variety of models compared to the industry standard. it employed about 6000 employees and was producing about 60. Thereafter. it was reported that operating efﬁciencies above the target level were consistently being achieved. they met as necessary to monitor implementation. 80 part-time facilitators had been trained to conduct the workshops. Three staff members of the local plant went to the company headquarters for 3 weeks to learn the workshop methodology. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 647 Fig. Although there was no employee representative committee dedicated to the program. it was found that part-time facilitators with knowledge of the production process in the area where the workshops . body parts who was delivering parts that did not ﬁt properly with other parts on the line. and line managers were assessed on whether they met the target. 2. they disbanded after giving a short presentation to an audience which also included senior management representation.A.e. rather than be retrenched. Grütter et al. CarCo The plant at which the work team initiative took place was a local subsidiary of a multi-national car manufacturer. The plant adopted the improvement program on instructions from the parent company.
It was emphasized that the steps should be followed closely and that the workshop should focus on a limited number of improvements that could be rapidly implemented with little expenditure. Every single person interviewed at the factory spoke highly of the program.3 −26.4 21. and process improvements were valued at several million Rand per annum (at the time 1 US$ was about 6 Rand). The workshop started with an explanation of the competitive environment that the plant faced and why continuous improvement was necessary. The facilitator training consisted of participation in a workshop. reported that she was initially skeptical about whether the workshops would work. Participants were given a brief introduction that lasted less than 1 h. given the long history of difﬁcult industrial relations at the plant.0 . they could expect a call from the parent to inquire about progress. Grütter et al. Table 1 Summary workshop statistics at CarCo Year 1 Number of workshops Quality (defect reduction) (%) Productivity (improvement) (%) Work in progress (reduction) (%) Throughput time (reduction) (%) 6 −35.7 20. If you go in with a positive attitude you will get positive results. 3. who was also a part-time facilitator. but what I learnt from this workshop.” An industrial engineer. The improvement workshops took place on paid time and included line operators as well as team leaders and technicians. These estimates are signed-off by an internal accountant and amounted to several million Rand each year. given the consistency of the direction of the results reported.2 41. Part of the workshop reporting requirements was to make an estimate of the ﬁrst year’s savings as a result of the improvements implemented.W.648 A. now makes me understand why industrial engineering are taking people out of the line and why the production foreman is always pushing for total production. working with the industrial engineer and the production foreman. but also served as a monitoring mechanism. At a team presentation following the completion of a workshop one participant made the following statement: “I am an operator.1 −18. Table 1 summarizes the recorded process improvements of the workshops over the ﬁrst 5 years of the program. as the baseline for the calculation of the percentage improvement was an estimate.7 −23. The improvements were recorded for each workshop in a global database maintained by the head ofﬁce.1 −21.8 Year 4 136 −42. it was included as an assessment item in the annual performance review of line managers. her view had clearly changed.5 Year 5 103 −44.5 h of classroom training. If the local plant did not regularly make inputs into the database.8 32.4 −36.0 −40. Year 2 182 −49. These ﬁgures need to be interpreted with caution. However. She said the improvement workshops had gained a lot of credibility because of the heavy emphasis and company support for getting team suggestions implemented. The savings claimed were conservative estimates given that the beneﬁts from the improvements would last longer than 1 year.8 37. I learnt that teamwork really works. and shadowing another facilitator during a workshop. To ensure that the workshops were prioritized. They then left the training room and started their investigation on the shopﬂoor.2 Now I am going to apply the principles of the methodology in the rest of my own life. there can be little doubt of the positive nature of the improvements.2 −29. The outcomes of the workshops were two-fold. Then the workshop methodology (an 11-step problem-solving and implementation process) was explained. Numerous photographs on display at the program ofﬁce and at the entrances to the plant showed smiling participants exhibiting their improvements.0 −21. and she spoke with great pride and enthusiasm of the results achieved in some of the workshops she had facilitated. Nevertheless. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 took place were more effective.7 −32. This not only served the purpose of sharing experiences among the other plants in the group.6 −50.4 Year 3 71 −58.
In order to turn perceptions about the restructuring process around. The new organizational chart showed teams as a permanent feature of the organizational structure. In addition to a high-level “Restructuring and Transformation Committee” (RTC). A high-level project team undertook a strategic benchmarking project during which a number of overseas plants were visited. While the quality and delivery speciﬁcations were extremely tight. there would be a focus on improving the manufacturing processes and support systems. On the one hand. All employees were trained in teamwork and interpersonal skills and provided with education in business management. Everyone in a leadership position. This presented both opportunities and signiﬁcant challenges. a re-engineering initiative was embarked on. but also to suppliers and even the dealer network of the company. All employees on the shopﬂoor were divided into teams according to the part of the process they worked in.A. On the other hand. but previously excluded competitors were now also able to compete in BoxCo’s home market. Military operations were scaled down drastically.3. a “Permanent Negotiating Committee” was formed where shopﬂoor employee concerns could be dealt with. • improve productivity and cycle time in the manufacturing process. the contract was seen as an opportunity to break into a lucrative international market. Further. At the time of doing the ﬁeldwork. South Africa’s political situation was normalized. During the 1990s. On the strength of their report and a survey of helicopter manufacturers conducted by a well-known American consultancy it was decided to: • place much greater focus on their customers (internal and external). 4. and a policy to commercialize the enterprise was adopted. BoxCo BoxCo was a division of an arms manufacturing conglomerate that had undergone extensive restructuring before the implementation of work teams in the division. led the BoxCo division. who jumped at the opportunity to conclude a contract with one of the world’s leading manufacturers of jet engines. After a culture audit. Financial statements and strategic plans were made available to the RTC so that they could make informed decisions. and the ability to manufacture certain types of aircraft and helicopters from the ground up was considered a core competence. after several rounds of severe cutbacks on employee numbers. Grütter et al. a skills audit and training needs assessment system was being implemented to manage teamwork and team leadership skills needs.W. Not only was the Department of Defense its sole customer during the years of military sanctions against the country. Although very experienced technicians were operating the sophisticated machining equipment. They met brieﬂy every morning and afternoon in a . / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 649 At the time of doing the ﬁeldwork. At its height during the 1960s. government expenditures on arms were slashed. a culture of responsibility avoidance and poor performance permeated the workplace. it also had an autocratic military style of management during those years. morale was low. the conglomerate employed in excess of 14.000 employees. no further retrenchment would take place as a result of the re-engineering process. It was made clear that after the number of employees within the BoxCo division had been cut back from over 1500 people to about 600. • break down functional hierarchies into crossfunctional teams. Considerable expertise had been built-up due to the need to be self-sufﬁcient. In preparation for the implementation of work teams. Previously. the organizational layers in the division were reduced and new job speciﬁcations were drafted. the company was wholly owned by the state and operated as an extension of the military complex in South Africa. and the applicants were screened against pre-set criteria using psychometric assessment and interviews to ensure their ability to lead teams. • introduce new information and measurement systems to improve data distribution and decision making. export markets opened up. and sanctions were lifted. the program ofﬁce was extending its promotion of the improvement workshops not only into the indirect service and administration departments of the plant. Instead. Internal applications were invited for the posts of team leader. from team leaders on up. was given transformational leadership training. A dynamic divisional manager. it was realized that a radical change with respect to human resource management and work organization was necessary.
Despite a company-wide policy to transform the work organization in the corporation. an analysis of the cases ﬁnds a combination of intervention and participation tactics used by DrinksCo. Given the crucial role of the technicians in achieving the extremely high speciﬁcations and deadlines. and the implementation was based on an advanced system of best operating practices.W. This was due to about 25% of production at any time being expedited by means of an “action plan”. the initiatives appeared to be driven in different ways.650 A.4. but also because the MRP system did not always contain accurate information about stocks. the output of the division increased from 34 to 107 gearboxes (a more than three-fold increase with roughly the same number of employees). at BoxCo. In part. A comparison of the cases In the three cases. the meetings focused on coordination of daily activities in order to achieve particular deadlines. A group leader (coordinator of several teams) spent a lot of time chasing components required for gearboxes due for assembly. Of the three companies. From 1 year to the next. The walls of the meeting area were covered with information such as the team’s code of conduct. and other performance parameters. Individual problems were assigned to team members to follow up and report back to the team for implementation. 4. This problem was mostly due to unanticipated quality problems. production schedules. and data on quality. led by a charismatic leader. In keeping with Nutt’s four tactics for implementation used by managers. and intervention and participation tactics by BoxCo. the team managing the initiative was well resourced. Lead time decreased from 7. work procedures. In his public and informal communications the divisional manager attributed these performance improvements to the new team-based work organization. delivery. Grütter et al. The results of the workplace change initiative were encouraging. At DrinksCo. 3. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 Fig. each team identiﬁed problems and proposed solutions or the need for more information. Product features not to speciﬁcation at BoxCo (as accepted by customer). 3. scheduling and implementation of suggestions that did not require signiﬁcant resources. the initiative was driven by the overseas head ofﬁce through a sophisticated global database of the improvements recorded by all their plants. . As at DrinksCo.5 months to 20 days (an 87% improvement). only the gearbox division. designated area to address obstacles to their production. BoxCo was the only one experiencing any serious ﬁnancial difﬁculties. At CarCo. and quality improved dramatically as shown in Fig. it is fair to conclude that the teamwork on the shopﬂoor played a signiﬁcant role in making these achievements possible. These teams had decision-making authority over work allocation. made the transition. edict and intervention tactics used by CarCo. There were before and after photographs of housekeeping initiatives and ﬂipcharts with notes and diagrams of problem-solving and improvement projects.
In Hypothesis 1. Credibility-building activities associated with ongoing teams will be aimed at establishing credibility at both the work team and program levels. Work teams implemented in organizations with a history of abandoned work team initiatives will primarily engage in reactive credibility-building activities.A. While all three performance improvement programs were permanent. Hypothesis 1d. Work team engagement is positively associated with early implementation credibilitybuilding activities. While we saw credibility-building activities associated with each of the teams. implementation environments (e. The hypotheses that follow. we cannot attribute team engagement to the implementation tactic directly. based on past research and our observations. The three sets of hypotheses below summarize the main insights derived from the cases.W. in terms of ﬁnancial investment and managerial time. in only two of the three cases (DrinksCo and BoxCo) were the teams themselves intended to be permanent.e. Because the tactics of implementation varied among the teams. However. they are not sufﬁcient to explain engagement for ongoing performance improvement teams in particular. Finally.e. teams existing as an identiﬁable organizational structure) and team engagement (i. Differences among the cases include varying managerial tactics of implementation. In fact. by developing propositions associated with the implementation of performance improvement teams. while it is clear. initial efforts at goal-directed activities). that role and goal clarity are important pre-conditions for work team engagement. in all three cases. Credibility-building activities are actions undertaken by management that indicate a real commitment to the stated goal or actions undertaken by team members to test that commitment. Rather. fewer credibility-building 5. Grütter et al. Hypothesis 1a. the third hypothesis addresses the sustainability of performance gains over time. we distinguish between team formation (i. depending on whether the teams are project-oriented or ongoing. Hypothesis 1.g. to implement the respective initiatives. signiﬁcant efforts had been made. which we term “credibility-building activities”. we were able to observe longitudinal characteristics and/or changes in both management and team actions. and work team composition (e. Because we had the opportunity to follow these teams over a long period of time. Hypothesis 1b. technicians at BoxCo versus less educated employees at CarCo). reﬂect the contingencies associated with these two team types. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 651 Comparing the three cases provides a basis for developing hypotheses associated with ongoing performance improvement teams. the three cases were different types of manufacturing operations). . Hypothesis 1c. the contribution of this study is to extend existing theory by focusing on the actions of both management and teams to determine how and why successful performance improvement teams evolve as they do. These activities take various forms. As previously discussed. while focusing on ongoing performance improvement teams. we observed something more fundamental in the actions of management and the teams. Work teams implemented in organizations with no history of previous work team initiatives will primarily engage in proactive credibility-building activities. and whether the activities are proactive or reactive. for these teams. the level of a priori goal clarity is limited because the actual performance improvement projects are determined later by the team. Further. Credibility-building activities associated with project-oriented teams will be primarily aimed at establishing credibility at the program level. This provides an opportunity to compare the implementation characteristics of successful ongoing performance improvement teams with successful project-oriented teams that are part of a permanent performance improvement program.g. Case study-based hypotheses We follow a similar approach to that taken by Narasimhan and Jayaram (1998) in their development of a process model for re-engineering service operations. The ﬁrst hypothesis addresses the early implementation period when teams initially engage (or fail to engage) in goal-directed activities. The second hypothesis is relevant to the ongoing activities of the team and the rate of performance gains.
to further understand the range of credibility-building activities that are found with ongoing performance improvement teams. and forming a representative steering committee early in the team implementation process where employee and management concerns could be dealt with. such as work team engagement. . stable membership. management support to facilitate early team meetings. At BoxCo. The case data suggest that the use of proactive credibility-building activities is likely to result in earlier work team engagement than the use of reactive credibility-building activities. the activities at CarCo were mostly aimed at establishing credibility at the program level as opposed to credibility at the team level. Grütter et al. Comparing the teams in this study to those in the Banker et al. Following work team engagement. (2001). encouraging transparency. establishing credibility at the program level is likely to be sufﬁcient to also establish credibility at the team level (Hypothesis 1a). DrinksCo and BoxCo had credibility-building activities at both the program and team levels. but through pre-determined job speciﬁcations and a transparent selection process in which equitable allocations were seen to be made. According to the authors of the study. issues (e. Examples of credibility-building activities at the DrinksCo include: involving labor representatives in a study tour prior to the implementation of work teams. Further. because the South African companies did not have a history of previous attempts at implementing performance improvement teams. would beneﬁt from credibility-building activities at both the program and team levels (Hypothesis 1b). with less speciﬁc goals (just an overall performance improvement mandate). credibility-building activities include: forming a high-level “RTC” and “Permanent Negotiating Committee”. However.g. early improvement ideas put forth by the team members tended to be focused on individual. the discussion of the initial implementation phase suggests that credibility-building activities primarily took the form of team members testing management’s commitment to team implementation. the case studies provide further insights into the timing of performance gains resulting from the efforts of the team. rather than systemic.W. attempts at introducing work teams. where shopﬂoor employee concerns could be dealt with. where teams were re-introduced after previous failed attempts. It is instructive to contrast these teams with teams in another study by Banker et al. replacing a tool or ﬁxing a broken chair). and allocating team leader positions in the new team-based work organization not on the basis of seniority. the performance improvement teams at DrinksCo and BoxCo. employees requesting and receiving pay at the highest grading in lieu of their shift-work bonus while being trained. 2a and 2b. this type of reactive credibility-building activities did not occur (Hypothesis 1d). such as credibility-building activities. These insights are formalized in Hypotheses 2. Both an outcome-orientation and substantive participation are positively associated with a rapid rate of performance gains. and a long-term orientation. is affected by the timing of inputs. All of these activities are aimed at the program level. possibly failed. Performance improvement teams were new to these companies. Hypothesis 2. In the study by Banker et al. for instance. Examples of credibility-building activities at CarCo include: sending local plant managers overseas to the parent company to be trained in the methodology of team-based improvement workshops. This is also consistent with the Marks et al.652 A. Because the temporary project-oriented teams at CarCo had shifting team membership and a very high level of goal clarity (projects were pre-speciﬁed). For example. (2001) study also sheds some light on the initial performance improvement trajectory. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 activities were in evidence at CarCo than at DrinksCo or BoxCo. establishing an ofﬁce to support implementation of the team-based improvement workshops. by providing company ﬁnancial statements to these committees. On the other hand. (2001) framework in which the timing of outputs. (2001). the team members used management’s response to these issues to assess whether management was really committed to work teams in light of the numerous instances in the past of programs being introduced and then abandoned (Hypothesis 1c). none of them had a history of past. providing training to all team members and training team leaders on transformational leadership. making a big up-front investment by taking the team members off production for several months while they received training. and including the program of team-based improvement workshops in the company’s strategic objectives.
has been supported by many empirical studies (e. Interpersonal issues and team process disagreements are more likely to surface with ongoing performance improvement teams than with project-oriented teams. Klein and Sorra. This combination of a project-driven outcome-orientation and substantive participation accelerated both idea generation and implementation. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 653 Hypothesis 2a. and discussing progress toward resolving the problems. 1998). thereby limiting the potential for workshop objectives that were not focused on process or work practice improvements. an outcome-orientation hastens both idea generation and implementation. team records. indicates an outcome-orientation. an outcome-orientation was in evidence from the beginning of each workshop. Hypothesis 2 identiﬁes two key characteristics associated with the implementation of improvement ideas: outcome-orientation and substantive participation. the teams in both cases had a decisive role in seeing that good ideas were implemented. All suggestions from shopﬂoor teams were recorded and followed-up until implemented to the satisfaction of the team. inputs such as rewards and (dis)incentives. but were assigned by the line manager. Further. In the case of CarCo.. 1983. Grütter et al. 1987. 1996. in which the implementation of improvement ideas leads to performance gains. Latham and Steele. Their method of focusing meetings on performance problems (termed “gaps” by DrinksCo).. Based on our observations each team exhibited an outcome-orientation and substantive participation to varying degrees. This is not surprising because of the limited focus of the improvement workshops and the associated high level of goal clarity. At BoxCo. While we did not observe multiple companies with project-oriented teams. The teams at DrinksCo and BoxCo followed a similar process for identifying performance problems and implementing improvement ideas. each workshop team had the authority to directly implement their ideas (up to a certain cost level that accommodated most ideas). assigning responsibility for resolving the problem. Tanskanen et al. It is also notable that the workshop objectives were not set by the team members. and interviews. we did observe many workshops within CarCo that all exhibited a high-level of outcome-orientation. as well as the timing of performance gains. The Mohrman and Novelli (1985) model. We deﬁne “outcome-orientation” as a focus on achieving performance objectives.W. Hypotheses 2. In particular. When aiming for a rapid rate of performance gains. the level of outcomeorientation over time will exhibit greater variability for ongoing performance improvement teams than for project-oriented teams. Further. 1984. because performance gains are linked to the implementation of improvement ideas. The shift team members also had regular shift meetings. the teams at BoxCo focused on the plant’s strategic priority of on-time delivery. such as uncertain availability of specialized raw materials and unexpected rework due to . Progress reports were given at each team meeting. 1998).A. Each shift team structured their team meetings around an operational performance report that alerted them to problem areas where performance needed to improve.g. with the implementation monitored by the teams. Anderson et al. Hackman. The speciﬁc “performance improvement” objectives for each team differed. the one company where the teams were project-oriented rather than ongoing. and substantive participation hastens idea implementation. and quality assurance and technical staff were incorporated into the teams to strengthen the team’s capacity to handle these tasks. Numerous suggestions were generated and documented. At DrinksCo tasks such as simple quality checks and maintenance activities were devolved to the shopﬂoor teams. although they all centered on productivity and quality improvement. the emphasis was on work coordination and scheduling because the nature of the fabrication process required ﬂexibility to meet delivery deadlines in spite of delays. 2a and 2b extend existing theory by focusing on the actions of the team to help explain how and why this model works. Hypothesis 2b. resource availability. “Substantive participation” is the ability of the team to make and implement decisions. As a result. Hand-over meetings between shifts were introduced to coordinate activities and alert the next shift of potential problems. and organizational support in alignment with organizational goals have been associated with desired outcomes (Gladstein. Yeatts and Hyten. For example. However. 1995. Based on our observations.
At BoxCo job titles. while at DrinksCo and BoxCo the teams themselves were institutionalized. Finally. . team meeting areas were permanently allocated. We observed that institutionalization provides a mechanism for teams to revisit speciﬁc performance issues and evaluate the effectiveness of previously implemented solutions over time. job speciﬁcations and responsibilities changed to include teamwork. but one of the team members refused to participate. One of the purposes of the ofﬁce was to serve as an institutional memory to monitor team-initiated performance outcomes. This is especially critical in the case of ongoing performance improvement teams.e. Again. the team had decided on the importance of a certain housekeeping initiative. However. the authors argued that mandated team membership promotes institutionalization. at DrinksCo and BoxCo. we observed more of these types of issues at DrinksCo than at BoxCo. it took time away from other goal-directed activities. less so for BoxCo. we address the persistence of performance gains over time and the role of team institutionalization. interpersonal issues and team process disagreements were more likely to surface than with the project-oriented. A signiﬁcant amount of time was spent on resolving this issue (which was eventually resolved to the satisfaction of all involved). Team institutionalization is positively associated with sustaining performance gains. In the article by Banker et al. Often more than one team meeting per shift took place when rescheduling of production was necessary. 1–3 provide some evidence that the rate of performance improvement was quite fast at CarCo. and HR and industrial relations policies were changed and re-negotiated to accommodate team-based work organization requirements (e. in this case. Instances of revisiting performance issues and monitoring effectiveness were observed with teams at each of the companies. In the latter cases.654 A. However. (2001). time was taken off production for team meeting on every shift. shifts were re-organized into teams which included quality control and maintenance people. revisiting performance issues and monitoring previously implemented solutions were the responsibility of the shopﬂoor improvement team itself. As a result. Table 1 and Figs. and HR and industrial relations policies were changed and re-negotiated to accommodate team-based work organization requirements. we observed variability in the level and persistence of outcome-orientation and goal-directed activities among the teams at DrinksCo and BoxCo that we did not observe among the project-oriented teams at CarCo (Hypothesis 2b). and their annual performance reviews included an assessment of the actual number and effectiveness of improvement workshops conducted against the number of budgeted workshops. At CarCo line managers budgeted for a certain number of workshops in their area of responsibility every year. shift schedules were changed). In the case of CarCo. maintaining performance gains was facilitated by the continuity of the individual teams. in Hypothesis 3. Hypothesis 3. More speciﬁc evidence of institutionalization includes the following: at DrinksCo. In general. In the former case. While the teams in all three companies had mandated membership (either permanently. At CarCo performance issues can be revisited by convening another workshop. due to the permanent nature of the DrinksCo and BoxCo teams. This reﬂects the level at which institutionalization occurred.W. However. a team at DrinksCo struggled with interpersonal issues that frequently shifted their focus away from performance outcomes. performance assessment for shopﬂoor employees was introduced. For example. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 the very high product speciﬁcations. maintaining performance gains was facilitated by the establishment of an ofﬁce to administer the workshop program. and the slowest for DrinksCo. training. Many corrective and preventative actions were also generated and implemented by the team members. short-term teams at CarCo (Hypothesis 2a). with the purpose of maintaining the momentum of improvement activities). In one such instance. a permanent organizational structure for how work gets done. The fact that the teams in each of these companies are in operation several years after their formation suggests that they have become institutionalized (i. Consistent with our observations. Grütter et al. team meetings were permanently scheduled into the workday. we need look to the actions of management and the shopﬂoor teams to explain why institutionalization is associated with sustaining performance gains.g. pay grades. job speciﬁcations were changed to include teamwork skills. the workshop program was institutionalized.
W. they do not address the timing of performance gains and the implications for the sustainability of performance gains. (1c) Work teams implemented in organizations with a history of abandoned work team initiatives will primarily engage in reactive credibility-building activities. moderators of management and team actions. (2) outcome-orientation and substantive participation are positively associated with a rapid rate of performance gains ((2a) interpersonal issues and team process disagreements are more likely to surface with ongoing performance improvement teams than with project-oriented teams. Conclusions A literature review and three case studies of programs to introduce shopﬂoor improvement teams were used to generate hypotheses and provide a framework for understanding longitudinal issues such as the timing and sustainability of performance gains following the implementation of performance improvement teams. as in the case of CarCo). . Taken together. it is the persistence of goal-directed activities over time that is the true indicator of institutionalization. and (2b) as a result. Existing models such as Mohrman and Novelli (1985) and Yeatts and Hyten (1998) include a longitudinal dimension in the way constructs are related to one another. on ongoing performance improvement teams. (2001) examine only one type of performance improvement team. and key performance metrics for performance improvement teams over time. the hypotheses are given as follows: (1) work team engagement is positively associated with early implementation credibility-building activities ((1a) credibility-building activities associated with project-oriented teams will be primarily aimed at establishing credibility at the program level. mandated team membership is not the same as institutionalization. and (3) team institutionalization is positively associated with sustaining performance gains. considering the diversity of situations in which work teams are formed. developed. Table 2 summarizes the research hypotheses in a framework that delineates the evolving management and team actions. and (1d) work teams implemented in organizations with no history of previous work team initiatives will primarily engage in proactive credibility-building activities). 6. proactive or reactive activities Work team engagement Outcome-orientation and substantive participation continues in the medium. One limitation is that the study was restricted to large corporate manufacturing ﬁrms in South Africa. possibly limiting the generalizability of the ﬁndings. / Journal of Operations Management 20 (2002) 641–657 Table 2 Implementation phases of performance improvement teams Implementation phase Early Management/team actions Moderators of management/ team actions Key performance metric(s) a 655 Short. the level of outcome-orientation over time will exhibit greater variability for ongoing performance improvement teams than for project-oriented teams). these propositions suggest that management and team actions and key performance metrics change as the teams mature. However. as in the cases of DrinksCo and BoxCo or temporarily.to long-term. Thus. Even longitudinal studies such as Banker et al. the primary contribution of this paper to theory development is to extend existing theory to better understand how the actions of management and teams contribute to the success of performance improvement teams over time. in particular. (1996) and Banker et al.A. (1b) credibility-building activities associated with ongoing teams will be aimed at establishing credibility at both the work team and program levels.to long-terma Institutionalization – Continued performance gains and sustainability of prior gains Credibility-building activities Project-oriented or ongoing teams. However. and operate. In temporal order. We focused. Grütter et al. Rather.to medium-term Outcome-orientation and substantive participation Project-oriented or ongoing teams Rate of accrual of performance gains Medium.
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