Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Self-Managed Work Teams

In the article titled Self-Managed work Teams there were several points and examples on how self-managed work teams are formed and operate. The principle behind this article spanned several questions about the operation and success of the idea of self-managed teams. This example from Chevron’s Western Production Business unit, demonstrates the benefits of maximizing human resources mixed with technology and other resources.

Chevron initially formed this type of a team in order to foster teamwork, increase the involvement of their employees, and cultivate the empowerment of their employees. In order to accomplish this task, team members must possess several skills. The perfect mix of technical skills, flexibility and cooperation makes a team. Not only that, the success of these types of work teams such as in the case of Chevron depends on the performance of what they accomplish throughout their task. Self-managed work teams helped cultivate the success of some of the largest companies in corporate America today by improving the level of turnover and abseentisim. By streamlining job classifications and improving the relationships with unions these self-managed work teams were more than an improvement, they were a revolution.

Initially Chevron experimented on the idea of these self-managed work teams to improve the cooperation between teams but also to utilize their resources in the most efficient manner. “The small asset team structure ownership at the micro level instead of at the macro level, resulting in duplication of work processes and poor utilization of resources.” (Attaran,3). According to the article at the level where there are several smaller teams within Chevron’s structure the teams operated at the micro level which introduced the concept of lost or wasted resources. Without seeing the big picture at the macro level the teams were operating at different levels of their own goals. This however was inefficient because they did not realize that if this process was streamlined into a larger global self-managed team the big picture would have been then realized. Chevron realized that the synergy of the individuals composing the group would be much more beneficial, which it has been.

“An important lesson learned from the previous organizational structure was that operating costs were greatly reduced when teams focused on work process.”(Attaran,3).

When the team as a whole realized that the big picture or work process was the goal, operating costs plummeted and productivity rose. After the process was realized the team continued to define the responsibilities of the team members clearly, with well defined boundaries. Chevron took the initiative to demonstrate the benefits of compiling the perfect mix of technical ability and social leadership and communications in their 11 self-managed work teams formed by 5 to 8 members each.

These teams with a perfect blend of technical abilities and social abilities were the core of the organizational structure that started to see the big picture which would later lead to their continued success. To Chevron’s Western Business unit the success of the task relied completely not only on the cooperation of the teams but synergy. A team can be a group but not every group can be a team. With that being said, each group member had to contribute equally within their defined process or goal in order to benefit the goal of the teams. Each team member’s personal goals came second to that of the goal of the team or the big picture. This wonderful process did not happen over night, the team members had to be educated. All of the team members received training in such things as problem solving, communication and conflict resolution which was essential to the stability and productivity of the team. This process was continuous and ever-changing in its nature.

“Immediately after the transition to the new structure, frustrations and problems began to appear.”(Attaran, 4). These problems were not unusual because the problems themselves could have been because of lack of communication or unfamiliarity with the day to day job function. “Simply cooperating with peers and attending team meetings was no longer enough.”(Attaran, 5). As stated earlier a team is much more than cooperation and all team members must contribute to the process. Team members not only have to put aside their differences but they must also make their decision in order to positively affect the outcome of the work process.

The idea of self managed teams relate to everyone at one point in time. The statement made in the article is true, simply cooperating is not enough. In my profession cooperation is only one piece of the puzzle. Each team member is a one man self-managed team that also supports and trains the other team members. Although cooperation is the key, the main purpose of the team was to achieve the goal or task that was prescribed. Personal differences are detrimental to the process if they are not put aside. In my profession however, personal differences are essential to the diverse thinking and creativity within the group.

The perfect mix of technical and social skills and the right management makes all the difference. Teams must be formed on a solid foundation in order to accomplish the task. In the example of Chevron’s Western Business unit one has to consider many things if success is to come out of the structure. If synergy is to be established, but differences are put aside then do you really have the team members true input? If you do not have the team members true input, might there be a higher level of success with that opinion?

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