SELF MANAGED WORK TEAM (SMWT) - Introduction
“Not finance. Not technology. Not strategy. It is team work that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare”(p. vii) This is the way Patrick Lencioni opened his best- selling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002)
The increase in global competition has created situation for firms to become more innovative and incorporate ideas that increase employee motivation and productivity while decreasing costs. One method that has had great success is the use of Self-Managed Work Team (SMWT). William Passmore reports in his article, "Developing Self-Managing Work Teams: An Approach to Successful Integration.", that Self-Managed Work Teams (SMWTs) are increasing in their popularity and many U.S. firms are using different forms of these teams to help increase production, streamline the organizational process, and maintain a higher level of commitment and motivation among employees.
Self-Managed Work Team (SMWT)is “a group of employees who are accountable for their deliverables as a team and managing end to end process by themselves with no / minimum supervision”
In traditional setting, for every 10-15 shop floor employees there is a supervisor who ensures that day to day activities are carried out by them. For every 3-4 supervisors there is a manager who manages supervisors directly and shop floor employees indirectly. These managers are in turn managed by Department Head. Probably assumption is that all the shop floor employees have no brain to use towards contributing to the organization, will have to be supervised very closely to make them work, will not take responsibility, will not contribute to improvements, will not learn new skills etc. Often shop floor employees will not disappoint them and will reflect these assumptions in their behavior.Result is wastage of human resources.
‘Self-Managed Work Teams’ (SMWTs’) way of working assumes that every shop floor employee can contribute not only by their hands but also by their brains to implement improvements, can learn new skills, does not require supervision to carry out their routine activities, can take higher responsibility of Production, Quality, Cost, Delivery, Safety and Morale.Good news is that ‘it WORKS’. Though initially it started in Western world as a concept and developed outside India successfully, it works in India too. For example in Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories Limited, an Indian multi-national pharmaceutical company implemented Self-Managed Work Teams concepts almost a decade ago. It was the first pharmaceutical company to implement it in the world. These team members have grown to the status of Managers!
In 2008 I started implementing the same in the name of Self-Managed Team (SELF MANAGED WORK TEAM (SMWT)) in ELGI Equipments Ltd, an Indian multinational manufacturing Compressors. I have seen operators sitting and chatting during their shift time. When enquired, they said that materials for production had not come and their supervisor was following with different departments to get it at the earliest. The same employees after implementing Self-Managed Team (SELF MANAGED WORK TEAM (SMWT)) philosophy, would ensure availability of materials the previous day. If material is not available at the line, they would follow it up with stores through their ‘Thaeni( Meaning ‘Honey bee’ in Tamil. Material Coordinator from their team) STAR’ and if material was not available in stores, sometimes the ‘Thaeni’ used to follow it up with Purchase department and in some instances, their follow up trail went up to Supplier himself. Whether they need to follow up it with Stores, Purchase and Suppliers is debatable, but the point is that they had taken the responsibility for the on-time production and took pride in achieving it.
Self-Managed Work Team (SMWT) implementation mainly focuses on shop floor employees. However, the changes affect every function that interacts directly with the shop floor and at every level. At a broad level, it brings changes in every function.
Implementation of Self-Managed Work Team (SMWT) is not EASY, especially in our culture. It has its own challenges and risks. The biggest challenge is about its’ sustenance. These points will be discussed in forth-coming articles.