Self-directed Teams
Manufacturing and distribution operations management consulting firm offering state-of-the-art technologies and methods to companies world-wide

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Self-directed Teams


A self-directed team is a multiskilled cross-functional group of employees who share responsibilities for producing a particular service or product. The difference between a self-directed team and a cross-functional team is the self-directed team possesses full-empowerment of responsibility for results.

The concept of using groups of cross-functional employees in modern business in the form of a team has been around in the U.S. for decades. Self-directed teams have been used in Great Britain and Sweden since the 1950's.

Cross-functional teams, which are teams of people representing different functions and functional parts of an organization, have been used in the construction industry in the U.S. since the 1960's and earlier for specific projects. Other companies used cross-functional teams to accomplish special projects. Work teams emerged in the late 1970's as an approach to implementing MRPII systems.

The emphasis in the U.S. came during the 1980's after the U.S. lost substantial market share in major markets. Major competition was from Japan in steel, electronics, automotive and other industries. As a response to the devastating blow U.S. corporations suffered, they began to look for new techniques for doing business differently, and lean. What they found were techniques being employed in quality initiative that had been taught to them by the U.S in the post World War II era.

As major companies began to restructure themselves for competitiveness in the 1980's, they began to employ cross-functional teams to create an integrated organizational approach to design and implementation, first as project teams, then as permanent organizational entities.

The companies also found that the Japanese were using very simple approaches in manufacturing that cross-fertilized to the U.S. beginning with Just-in-Time, TQM, and Kaizen. With the implementation of Just-in-Time and Kaizen, U.S. companies began to rearrange shop floors into manufacturing cells. With the cells came cell teams that were multi-functional and multi-skilled.

Simultaneously the TQM concepts developed in the U.S. employed the use of quality improvement circles and teams. Eventually With TQM, the idea proliferated to other parts of the organization and coupled with the Japanese idea of empowerment of workers, became a movement of its own known as self-directed work teams. Today, self-directed teams have become a useful device in managing change and increasing productivity.

The Issues

Self-directed work teams have a solid track record and many case studies have been developed demonstrated their success. One of the major issues surrounding the use of self-directed teams is empowerment.

People are empowered when they are given the authority and responsibility to make decisions affecting their work with a minimum of interference and second guessing by others. When people are empowered they bring their minds to work. They are engaged in making decisions that affect their part of the business. They take responsibility for their actions. They work free from the petty bureaucratic hassles that diminish value and waste time. They add value to the organization by embracing the principles of quality and service. They search for ways to make a difference.

The problem is our view of organizations is based on the military model of hierarchy and chain of command. People above make the decisions, people below carry them out. This model is firmly entrenched and difficult to overcome. The problem is many lower and middle level managers have difficulty giving up what they perceive is their hard-earned right to make a decision. Thus they are living in a paradigm that is hard to change. Resistance to change is the result of this paradigm.

Pragmatic Applications

The use of Self-Directed work Teams can increase competitiveness. One solid application is using the team as a device to compress total throughput time in an organization from order entry through shipment. As an example, the development of customer service cells along with collocation of the cell members has long proven to show clear results in compressing the time it takes to get an order to the shop floor.

But just like anything else, using Self-Directed Teams is no panacea, nor should it be embraced as a religion. It is an operational strategy that, if implemented properly, can provide a new dimension to competing: quickly introducing new customerized high quality products and delivering them with unprecedented lead times, swift decisions, and manufacturing products with high velocity.

Our Approach: Tools from a Toolchest

Rockford Consulting Group applies concepts and technologies as the situation warrants, that result in the ultimate benefit to our clients. We treat strategies, technologies, and methodologies as tools in a toolchest, and use them when they offer practical solutions and achievable results. We believe that each client situation is unique, with its own unique set of solutions. (Please see our managing change programs Managing Change Consulting Services )

Why Us?

Rockford Consulting Group can provide long-term assistance to many companies in a variety of industries. The firm has a cadre of the best management consultants in the world today, providing high quality professionalism through the use of experience and innovation.

We subscribe to the Institute of Management Consultants Code of Professional Conduct. All consultants engaged on projects adhere to its principles. Whenever possible we will use consultants certified in their particular specialty area. Certification assures that consultants have substantial prior experience in their specialty, and their competencies have been tested by the IMC, and verified by a number of clients. This assures our clients that we are assigning the highest qualified consultants in the profession.

We provide technical expertise, team facilitation, leadership, and direction in deciding how you will meet the challenge. We refer you to our Qualification Statement for further details on our background, areas of specialization, concepts and technologies applied, staffing, operating policy, approach, companies and industries served, case studies and references. Equally as important, we train our clients to sustain new methods of manufacturing and the consequential benefits over time. Your company will benefit directly from this training.

We have achieved an efficiency in our approach to assignments that allows us to provide high quality technical and managerial advice in a much shorter amount of time than could be accomplished years ago. We are able to do this because of the extensive consulting experience that each of our specialists has.

1999 Rockford Consulting Group, Ltd.

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