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Developing Effective Self Managing Work Teams In Service Organizations

591 words - 3 pages

A large body of research has emerged on the effective implementation of self-managing work
teams (SMWTs). However, virtually all of the research has been conducted in manufacturing
settings. This article draws upon the authors’ research on SMWTs in two service organizations:
an insurance operation and a telecommunications company. The authors focused on two
research questions: First, they examined the relationships among different dimensions of
SMWT effectiveness. Second, the authors explored the key success factors for SMWTs in a service
context. They found that the different dimensions of SMWTs’effectiveness do not reinforce
one another and are largely unrelated, and that creating an employee involvement (EI) context,
work design, and team characteristics were important predictors of SMWT effectiveness. Surprisingly,
team leadership was not important for SMWT effectiveness; in fact, sometimes, team
leadership was negatively related to effectiveness.
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Many books and articles have been written recently about SMWTs (e.g.,
Fisher, 1994; Manz & Sims, 1989; Wellins, Byham, & Wilson, 1991), focusing
on a number of subjects, including how SMWTs should be implemented,
how tasks for SMWTs should be designed, how SMWTs can develop effective
group processes, how the supervisory role must change, and what the
organization needs to do to support teams. While our knowledge base on
SMWTs is expanding, the evidence overwhelmingly comes from manufacturing
settings (for exceptions, see Batt & Appelbaum, 1995; Hackman,
1990; Wageman, 1997). Manufacturing firms eager for productivity
improvements and cost control have championed the implementation of
SMWTs. Yet, we do not have a clear idea about the extent to which these prescriptions
are generalizable to SMWTs in a service context.
However, an increasing number of service firms have adopted SMWTs as
well. Unpublished data from the Fortune 1000 study indicate that 52% of
service firms used SMWTs in 1993, up from 22% in 1987. To learn more
about SMWT effectiveness in service contexts, we studied SMWTs in two
service organizations: Aid Association for Lutherans (AAL), a fraternal
benefits society that operates a large insurance business, and Pacific Telesis
(PacBell), a large telecommunications company.
TWO RESEARCH QUESTIONS
We sought answers to the following two research questions: (a) Do the
dimensions of SMWT effectiveness reinforce one another? (b) What are the
key success factors for SMWT effectiveness in a service context? We outline
the logic underlying these two research questions in the following
paragraphs.
RELATIONSHIPS AMONG
DIMENSIONS OF SMWT EFFECTIVENESS
Most organizations recognize, at least implicitly, the multidimensional
nature of effectiveness (Cameron, 1986). The dimensions of effectiveness are
often defined in terms of three sets of stakeholders: owners, customers, and
employees. Financial performance metrics are most relevant to owners. From
an owner perspective, SMWTs can reduce the need for hierarchy and supervision,
thus reducing labor costs. SMWTs can also boost performance
through better problem solving and more integrated working relationships.

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