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TEAMWORKING TAKES A LEAD ROLE IN LEAN WORKING

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Team working plays a key role in the growing trend towards 'lead' working, according to preliminary findings from a...
Team working plays a key role in the growing trend towards 'lead' working, according to preliminary findings from a major new study into this form of corporate restructuring.

Results from the study, released today to delegates at the Institute of Personnel and Development's (IPD) national conference, also suggest that successful teamworking depends on expert personnel support.

The IPD's two-year study of people management in lean organisations attributes the move towards 'lean' working to a tougher competitive environment and the need for companies to be responsive to customers. It found that all of the case study companies had introduced some form of team working as part of their move towards 'leanness'.

However while organisational performance in many of the case study companies improved, team members often reported a mixture of increased enthusiasm and increased stress, with one team member saying, 'I don't get the chance to speak to any of my colleagues. Now I just sit down and do the job'. Team members appreciated the increased autonomy. According to an interviewee in one company: 'It's a great freedom for me having spent ten years just going in and traipsing around the machines with a bloke virtually stood over you with a stick telling you what to do - like wash that bit of mess up off the floor...'

Team members also appreciated the way that team working shifted the responsibility for performance from the individual to the team. However according to the report this also led to 'peer surveillance approach in areas such as time keeping and absenteeism, which in turn may create conflict and competition within the team as the tensions between individual and collective responsibilities are played out.'

Team leaders also reported varying responses. The most common was enthusiasm, but many also found the size of the job difficult to cope with, experienced a high degree of stress and in some cases became isolated from the rest of management. One team leader said: 'My new job is challenging, stimulating, but stressful.'

Some team leaders were unused to leadership and felt unprepared for their new responsibilities. Consequently poor performance was also identified as a problem. The ambiguity of their roles was also stressful for team leaders, who were often 'uncertain as to whether they were part of management or part of the team, or both'. In some cases, team leaders were given extra responsibilities but offered no pay increases which then led to a shortage of team leaders.

Summing up the experience of team working, the report says: 'The experience of team members involved a mixture of greater optimism and enthusiasm for the job together with increased stress and greater intensification of work. Although there were widespread changes in some organisations, many of the essential problems of the work itself remained. It was repetitive, mentally and physically demanding, and in some cases, subject to close surveillance. So in this sense little had changed in the actual nature of work.'

According to Angela Edward, IPD policy adviser, these results show that team working is not a one-step cure-all. 'Team working can work very successfully, but employers introducing team working as a way of improving production or efficiency also need to consider the cultural or social aspects of the team.

She also advises employers to carefully consider the people management and development implications of team working. 'Our research has shown that teams and team leaders play a key role in the lean and responsive organisation, but employers have to remember that teams do not emerge fully formed and functioning from the outset. Without continuous support from the personnel and development function in the form of planning, communication and training the success of team working is more a matter of luck than judgement.'

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