Management often make use of teams when organising the workforce. The early chapters of this project deal with the science behind groups; teams are a formalisation of groups organised around specific tasks that match management's goals. The key distinction between a team and a group are that a working group's performance is a function of what its members do as individuals, a team's performance on the other hand includes both individual results and 'collective work products'.[1] Firms are increasingly making use of new forms of teams that reflect the growing demands of the workplace to achieve more in a shorter space of time.

Companies believe that teams are effective at improving performance, reducing production costs, speeding up innovation, improving product quality, increasing work flexibility, introducing new technologies, increasing employee participation, achieving better industrial relations, meeting the challenge of global competition and identifying and solving work-related problems.[2] Further, empirical evidence suggests that team working positively affects the motivation, quality and productivity of workers, while also reducing staff turnover and absenteeism.[3]

The ability to work as part of a team is often an essential part of a job application. With all the benefits team working provides for management listed above, you can see why it so often is.

Team rewards are found to be more effective at rewarding an employee than individual rewards and contribute to the bond shared by members of the team. Furthermore, companies emphasising the value of work rather than the cost and using 'semi-autonomous' teamworking helps to achieve higher levels of financial performance.

Teamworking is a pragmatic management strategy that builds on the way in which teams satisfy psychological, social and political needs of the individual to develop more effective management strategy. It also fits in current trends in management science toward 'employee empowerment' and participatory management styles.

The pro-worker outlook on teams

The use of the word 'team' is partly a rhetorical device for management to invoke a shared sense of unity between workers and management. A pro-worker outlook recognises this idea to be a falsity. While supervisors with only a small degree of managing responsibilities without the power to hire and fire may be considered a fellow worker, management proper have a power role that is fundamentally exploitative of those they manage, and are therefore not on an equal footing.

Organisational Behaviour by Andrzej Huczynski and David Buchanan refers to critics of the team concept. These critics assert that the use of an attitude of 'we are all in this together', management and workers, is a union-busting device threatening the concept at the root of trade unionism; that workers require independent institutions promoting their interests. It can be seen as strongly aligned to the 'Unitarist' conception of industrial relations.

Types of teams

Management literature describes different types of teams, with their own structures tuned to the specific functions they have to perform. It describes four types of teams which are outlined below.

Advice teams

Advice teams are created to develop information for management's use in their decision-making.

A prominent example of an advice team is the quality circle, also known as a kaizen team, reflecting their origin within Japanese industry. They were originally derived from the manufacturing industry, but are now applied in service industries, government agencies, the voluntary sector, and the NHS.[2]

They were first introduced to the west in the 1980s, due to their success in Japanese industry.

Action teams

Action teams execute brief performances repeated under new conditions. Members are technically specialised and coordinate their contributions with each other.

A prominent example of an action team is a crew, which are defined as teams that are equipment or technology driven. This can be applied to workplaces in which the workforce might not be traditionally defined as a crew; for example McDonalds refers to its restaurant employees as 'crew members'.[2]

Project teams

A project team is a collection of individuals brought together to accomplish a specific task within a limited period of time.

A prominent example of a project team is a cross-functional team that spans across different departments of a company. Empirical research suggests cross-functional teams are widely used within organisations. They cut across the different functional departments of a company and in doing so pool knowledge and skills from a variety of sources. Cross-functional teams increase productivity, coordination and integration, reduce the time needed to develop new products and improve communications.

Cross-functional teams are different from other types of teams in that they are representative (individual members retain their position in their department), temporary and innovative (help solve non-conventional problems and meet challenging performance standards).[2]

Cross-functional teams are often used in product development, innovation and R&D.

A downside for management of cross-functional teams are that members are likely to experience divided loyalties between the team and their home department, and that due to their temporary nature, are sometimes difficult to develop stable ways of working.

Production teams

Production teams are teams that have a degree more permanency and perform day-to-day core operations. Individuals perform specific roles supported by a set of incentives and sanctions.[2] Organisational Behaviour by Andrzej Huczynski and David Buchanan states that examples of production teams might be product-oriented teams such as those assembling a computer on the factory floor, construction workers dealing with the building of a bridge and teams dealing with sound and light at a concert. The level of technical specialisation possessed by each individual member of the team may vary from medium to low, but a level of coordination is required between the team members and the team and other work units.[2]

There were experiments in the 1970s with 'employee participation' and 'industrial democracy' (limited worker input into the production process to better aid the extraction of surplus value from labour), such as that of the Quality of Work Life movement. An important counterpart to this in the 1990s were the innovations in team-working concerned with the improvement of efficiency and effectiveness. Organisational Behaviour by Andrzej Huczynski and David Buchanan states that in the improvement of services or production to meet the voraciously competitive global economy, technology only gives an organisation a short term advantage, and that it can eventually be copied by other organisations. Focusing on how 'human resources' are organised, however, is of greater importance.

Autonomous and self-managing teams

Workers' autonomy and self-management are terms usually associated with pro-worker politics; they point toward the way the workplace could be governed if workers owned the means of production and based production on the principle of 'from each according to ability' and distribution on the principle of 'to each according to their need'. In fact the name of these preliminary notes toward a project ('self-management notes') uses this language and holds a directly pro-worker political viewpoint.

But increasingly, autonomy and self-management are concepts that have been adopted within capitalist management science, as a means to better extract surplus value from the labour of the workforce.

The level of autonomy a team possesses can be distinguished in several levels:[2]

  1. None. Management controls the group totally and there is no team participation. Decision making is carried out by management and the team implements it. There is no element of participation, and no suggestions or requests made to management by the team.
  2. Some. Suggestions and requests can be made and management may listen and implement them. The team has some input into the decision-making process.
  3. Joint. The team shares decision-making power with management and play an equal role to management.
  4. Autonomy. Management fully trust the team and it is truly autonomous. Decisions are reached with no input from management at all.

Teams with a low amount of autonomy might be assembly line workers and supermarket checkouts. Teams with a moderate amount of autonomy might be quality circles or semi-autonomous groups. Finally teams with a high level of autonomy might be autonomous work groups, high performance teams and self-directed teams.

Organisational Behaviour by Andrzej Huczynski and David Buchanan states that researchers use four criteria to distinguish between autonomous and semi-autonomous teams. Three of the criteria must be met to be classified as semi-autonomous, while all four must be met to be classified as fully autonomous. These are:

  1. Members of the team work together.
  2. Members are responsible for specific products or services.
  3. Members jointly decide how the work is carried out.
  4. The team appoints its own leader.

The kinds of tasks that an autonomous or self-managing team carries out are those usually reserved for management. For example, they might:[2][4]

  • Set their own work schedule
  • Deal directly with external customers
  • Conduct their own member training
  • Set their own production quotas and performance targets
  • Deal with suppliers and vendors
  • Purchase equipment and services
  • Develop budgets
  • Do their own performance reviews on members
  • Hire co-workers
  • Fire co-workers

In other words, self-managing teams are a lesson in the self-management of self-exploitation. They leave management's hands clean while the workers carry out amongst themselves the tasks necessary for the organisation of the labour process. While they contain a kernel of radical potential - demonstrating that workers can self-organise the labour process without the need for capitalist management structures - in a way similar to CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya's concept of the Invading Socialist Society,[5] this is a new form of exploitation developed to improve the profit margins of capitalist enterprises.

These kinds of teams are noted by Rhokeun Park in 2012 as improving productivity and customer satisfaction at the company level, and job satisfaction, commitment and organisational citizenship behaviour at the level of the individual employee.[6] Finally, he states that self-managing or autonomous teams are more effective in capital-intensive industries than labour-intensive industries.[6]

Furthermore, according to the Fortune 1000 index of companies, approximately 80% of these top corporations, both manufacturing and otherwise, make use of self-managing teams.[7]

Autonomous and self-managing teams tie into the notion of 'employee empowerment'. This is a somewhat troublesome term given that worker empowerment will only be exercised in ways that are beneficial to the organisation, and hence to management. Self-managing teams are the apex of 'employee empowerment' and also tend to require a range of skills within the team.

These types of teams allow employees to form a variety of tasks, make decisions, engage in problem-solving and have a shared sense of responsibility.[2]

Japanese teamworking or 'Toyotaism'

Japanese teamworking is a specific form of teamworking that is very different from autonomous or self-managing teams, and is very different from the forms of teamworking that rose to prominence in Scandinavian and American companies in the 1960s and 1970s.[8] It is also termed 'lean production' or 'Toyotaism', due to its origins in Toyota's factories. This form of teamworking tends to disempower and deskill workers, and is little different from the teamworking seen in Fordism, particularly in its emphasis on direct management control, repetitive tasks and labour discipline.[9]

Lean and mean vs. lean and dual

Beverly Silver in her seminal book Forces of Labor distinguishes two different broad forms of lean production.[10] Lean production is a method capitalists use to order the automobile industry, in which inventories and stock piles are kept low. In this sense it shares a lot in common with the JIT (Just In Time) system, which is known for increasing workers power at the point of production due to the vulnerability of the supply chain. The Japanese methods that originated it combined repressive labour policies with employment security guarantees for the 'most important' sections of production, thereby buying worker cooperation with management and ensuring industrial peace. This is known as a the 'lean and dual' model.

In contrast, when western companies chose to abandon traditional Fordist organisation and try to emulate the success of the booming Japanese automobile industry, they neglected to bother with the employment security guarantees to buy worker cooperation with management. This method of arranging the production process is therefore christened 'lean and mean' by Silver.

The Kaizen principle

In Japanese team working there exists something termed the Kaizen principle. This refers to a contradiction in the labour process in which workers participate in a team for a few hours a week to suggest improvements to the labour process. This is a contradiction because in involves workers working in a 'very non-Taylorian manner to make the work for the rest of the month even more Taylor-like'.[2]

A workers' understanding of the Kaizen principle

The Kaizen principle revisits an ongoing theme within the management literature which can be described as a broad trend toward 'empowering' the workforce to the benefit of capital. This trend can also be seen in autonomous or self-managing teams. The idea of using the knowledge workers possess of the production process to further streamline it can only be seen to work effectively in a lean and dual system, in which workers are rewarded for their cooperation with a high degree of job security.

Politically it is very different from the radical notion of 'self-management' in which workers collectivise an industry and run it as a common worker-owned enterprise. However, certain glimpses into this radical possibility can be seen by observing this trend within capitalist management literature and noticing how it is deemed to be an effective way of organising production. Again it warrants a mention of Raya Dunayevskaya and CLR James' notion of the 'Invading Socialist Society'.[5]

Fiat and partial worker's control of industry

Beverly Silver in her book Forces of Labor charts labour unrest in the automobile industry across time and (geographical) space.[10] She touches upon a very interesting phenomena of partial self-management that occurred throughout the 1970s in Italy as a result of intense workplace struggles between labour and capital (or workers and management).

This phenomena was created partly due to a split by various leftwing groups with the official labour movement, with workers finding their trade unions to be incapable vehicles for their demands. Instead, an elaborate system of workers councils were set up across Fiat plants and other industries that, while failing to collectivise the plants entirely, had substantial input to the production process and required management to consult with them constantly about changes in the workplace, substantially decreasing managerial control over the workforce.

The very special and different nature of these workers councils is that they weren't a creation of management, but were rather something created by the workforce in the course of struggle against management, and forced upon management. Self-management notes terms this 'partial workers' self-management' and notes that it can be carried out by either trade or industrial unions, or independent workers bodies such as councils.

1. Katzenbach, Jon R, and Douglas K Smith. 1993. The Wisdom Of Teams: Creating The High Performance Organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
2. Buchanan, David A, and Andrzej Huczynski. 2010. Organizational Behaviour. Harlow, England: Financial Times Prentice Hall.
3. Delarue, A, G Van Hootegem, S Procter, and M Burridge. 2008. 'Teamworking And Organizational Performance: A Review Of Survey-Based Research'. The International Journal Of Management Reviews 10 (2): 127-48.
4. Training. 1996. 'What self-managing teams manage'. 1996 Industry report, 33(10).
5. Haider, Asad, and Salar Mohandesi. 2013. 'Workers’ Inquiry: A Genealogy'. Viewpoint Magazine.
6. Park, Rhokeun. 2012. 'Self-Managing Teams And Employee Attitudes: The Moderating Role Of Capital Intensity'. The International Journal Of Human Resource Management 23 (4): 714-730. doi:10.1080/09585192.2011.561212.
7. Druskat, V.U., and J.V. Wheeler. 2004. 'How To Lead A Self-Managing Team'. IEEE Engineering Management Review 32 (4): 21-28. doi:10.1109/emr.2004.25133.
8. MacDuffie, J.P. 1988. 'The Japanese Auto Transplants: Challenges To Conventional Wisdom'. ILR Report 26 (1): 12-18.
9. Danford, Andy. 1998. 'Teamworking And Labour Regulation In The Autocomponents Industry'. Work, Employment & Society 12 (3): 409-431. doi:10.1177/0950017098012003001.
10. Silver, Beverly J. Forces Of Labor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.