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How do you go about introducing teamworking?

Key Points

Teamwork can increase competitiveness by:

  • Study what is involved in teamworking by carrying out research and visiting organisations operating in teams
  • Be sure senior managers know how teamworking will contribute to the business strategy and are fully committed to teamworking
  • Adopt a participative style of management in partnership with employees and their representatives
  • Improving employee motivation and commitment
  • Respond to the fear among managers and the workforce caused by devolving decision-making and fewer levels of management
  • Plan teamwork as a continuous process where plans are regularly adjusted as changes are evaluated
  • Give high priority to good communications and consultation when introducing and maintaining teamwork
  • Identify and meet training needs
  • Concentrate appraisals on employee development
  • Check whether the reward system is compatible with teamworking.

Preparing for change

The first step is to make a study of what is involved and what the advantages and disadvantages might be. This might include reading some of the available literature on the subject. The next step is to attend some of the conferences on teamworking where you can hear first hand about the experience of other organisations and make contacts with other companies.

A further step is to look at how teamwork operates in practice. Arrange to visit any other companies in your area who may have introduced forms of teamworking and are willing to share their experiences. Many organisations will be able to arrange visits through existing contacts or network groups.

Senior management commitment

The introduction of teams is a major change that will affect the whole organisation. Before embarking on such a change, senior managers must be satisfied that they know how it will contribute to their overall strategy. Most commonly, as discussed earlier, organisations introduce teamworking as part of a strategy to give them competitive advantage through reducing costs, improving quality or encouraging product or process innovation often linked to the introduction of new technology.

Senior managers will need to demonstrate a firm commitment to teamworking throughout its introduction. This commitment is especially important if problems arise and middle managers and or employees start to question the change and lose motivation. Until a strong commitment by senior management exists, a move to teamworking should not commence. To start a teamworking initiative and then abandon it or allow it to run out of steam is likely to be seriously damaging.

Changing the culture

An organisation considering the introduction of teamworking must acknowledge that it will involve a long-term transformation. This will comprise not only concrete changes such as selecting teams or altering the layout of the work area but also changing less tangible factors like the attitudes of supervisors, managers and employees - or the 'culture' of the organisation.

Teamwork requires a participative style of management where employees have a significant degree of control over their own work. The more authoritarian the existing style the longer the change of culture will take. Employees and managers will be suspicious of and unprepared for an overnight change from authoritarianism to full participation.

For the change to teamworking to be effective the practices and beliefs of management must actively support the new environment. The manager's role should move from controller to initiator, counsellor and facilitator. Particular managerial tasks should aim to provide the right support and environment for effective teamworking and co-operation. These tasks include:

  • providing a vision and communicating it
  • encouraging the free flow of ideas and initiative
  • training and developing employees to take increased responsibility
  • overseeing teams and ensuring they meet objectives.

The need to initiate and manage change will place increasing emphasis on leadership skills and a style of management where authority comes from competence rather than status. Most managers are capable of adapting to the new style with training, encouragement and guidance.

A clear signal of the desire to change from an authoritarian to a participative culture can be made through harmonising terms and conditions of work. Harmonisation of differences in matters such as pay and grading systems, payment periods and sick leave can be important. Visible signals such as common canteen facilities and parking areas can help break down traditional barriers between blue and white collar workers and between various levels of the management hierarchy.

Changing the management structure

For many companies the changed role of managers and the devolution of decision making leads to a need for fewer levels of management and often for fewer supervisors and managers. This process can lead to fear and obstructive behaviour at all levels. Managers may be frightened of relinquishing power for fear of losing their jobs while employees may be fearful of the prospect of taking on more responsibility.

If fewer supervisors and managers are required, then this problem must be tackled. A voluntary approach can encourage co-operation and provide an escape route for those who are uncomfortable with the changes. The options to consider include:

  • offering a new role to those managers displaced - for example, using them as trainers or to lead special projects
  • setting out clearly the new vision and culture and offering voluntary alternatives for those who do not feel that they will fit in.

A clear strategy will be needed which deals with the issue honestly and openly. Where redundancies are being considered organisations should ensure appropriate consultation and selection. For information on handling redundancies, see Acas Advisory booklet - Redundancy handling.

Even when a new management structure has been established, difficulties may still arise. A particular problem can arise where middle managers delegate power to the shop floor but senior managers are reluctant to relinquish any of their power to middle managers. This can leave middle managers without a clear role and they may become a negative influence on the progress of teamworking. Middle management must be involved in the change process and convinced of its role in making it work.

Planning for change

The pace of change must be considered. Whether an organisation goes for a dramatic overnight organisational change or a gradual introduction of teamworking will depend on factors such as the existing culture and the business circumstances. Many organisations like to begin a change to teamworking on a small scale - for example, starting with a pilot exercise. This can help demonstrate the benefits of teamworking and, depending how it is handled, provide a pool of 'champions' to spread the word or a 'favoured few' who may be resented by the rest of the workforce. It can also flag up potential mistakes which can be corrected as the project is expanded. In other circumstances rapid change may be considered imperative if the organisation is to survive.

The development of teamworking cannot be viewed as a finite project with a beginning and an end. It is important to have an overall vision but in working towards the vision it will be necessary to adopt a number of interrelated initiatives. Frequently teamworking itself will be one of a range of strategic initiatives. It is better to see all change initiatives as part of a continuous process where progress and interrelationships are constantly planned, monitored and replanned. A useful concept in this respect is the cycle used by Shewhart and Deming where an initiative is planned and then carried out, preferably on a small scale. The results are studied and acted upon by adopting or abandoning the initiative or running again through the cycle incorporating the lessons learned or under deliberately changed conditions. The diagram above illustrates the process.

Study of the results of initiatives needs to take account of their effect on other parts of the organisation or on other initiatives. To give a simple example, a drive for increased business by the sales team may result in an increase in orders. Nevertheless, this may still be bad for the company if it is not accompanied by an increase in production to satisfy the demand.

When dealing with major change it is not possible to devote equal energy and resource to everything at once. Companies involved in the Tavistock/Acas research found they had to continually reassess priorities as the effects of various changes were studied.

Managers may use a mixture of formal and informal methods to decide objectives and priorities, ranging from meetings and working parties to chats and intuition. Those who have a stake in the proposed changes may try to influence events so that their initiatives gain approval and resources. There is an obvious danger that groups can influence events out of self-interest rather than to serve the wider interests of the organisation.

An open participative organisation where issues are fully discussed can help to ensure that all points of view are heard before decisions are taken. A steering group to oversee the process and help to order priorities is used by many organisations. Organisations may go further than this and attempt to formulate a more structured way of planning change. The Tavistock Institute has developed a methodology for planning and sequencing comprehensive change which among other things claims to help organisations to manage the inevitable 'tensions and competing pressures and conflicts of interest'(notes section 5).

Securing good employee relations

Communications and consultation

Good communications and consultation play a crucial part in the introduction and maintenance of teamworking. Existing communications and consultation policies and procedures should be examined and changed where necessary so that they support the introduction and maintenance of teamwork (notes section 6). Communications responsibilities should also be looked at, particularly where an organisation is moving to a management structure with fewer levels.

Where teamworking is a new initiative, the first stage will be to communicate and consult about its introduction and how it fits into the overall business strategy. Senior managers ought to play a prominent part at this stage explaining the reasons for the change at large-scale meetings or in smaller section meetings.

Communications and consultation should not be a once and for all operation when teamwork is being introduced. Rather it must be a continuous process aimed at establishing, maintaining and developing teams. It is particularly important to establish a reliable process for two-way communications between management and teams. A broad understanding of the business aims and the contribution of individual teams is essential if the optimum benefits of teamworking are to be realised. Arrangements for communications within teams will also have to be made to facilitate such things as allocating tasks, deciding priorities and maintaining good relations among team members. Team leaders will have a particular responsibility for communications and will need training to ensure the effective flow of information to and from managers and other teams and within the team itself. A variety of methods of communications may be used including:

  • meetings, large and small
  • team briefings
  • consultative committees
  • joint working parties
  • computer networks- particularly intranet systems
  • newsletters
  • company journals
  • letters to employees
  • notice boards
  • surveys to monitor effectiveness of communications.

Surveys of employees' opinions before and during the introduction of teamworking can help organisations to gauge the impact of the changes and give individuals the chance to express their views. They can also provide a useful back up to other ways of giving employees information.

Further advice on communications and consultation may be found in Acas Employee communications and consultation.

Involving trade unions

Many of the advantages of teamworking may also be seen by employees and their trade unions as potential threats. Quite frequently teamworking is introduced as part of a package of measures aimed at improving the competitiveness of the organisation. These may include increasing productivity, multi-skilling, reducing the number of staff and revising pay and grading systems as well as changing work organisation. Skilled workers often feel particularly vulnerable where traditional demarcations are threatened. Where a trade union is fully recognised, all these issues are matters for collective bargaining.

There are obvious concerns for the traditional role of the shop steward and these are discussed in depth in Acas Occasional Paper 54 Teamwork: key issues and developments. Some companies successfully combine the roles of shop steward and team leader, as both roles require energy and a desire to take on leadership. Most organisations, however, prefer to separate the two roles and most trade unions insist that shop stewards shadow the activities of company appointed team leaders in order to safeguard the interests of their members. Care should be taken that a move to teamworking does not disrupt the normal representative machinery of the trade unions and that new arrangements are introduced to allow an effective representative system to continue.

The way management/union bargaining is conducted may be challenged by the introduction of teamworking. This will be true particularly where collective bargaining is based on the perceived power of the parties rather than on their interests. Power based bargaining inevitably creates winners and losers or produces compromises that may not provide the best solutions for the organisation. Successful teamworking relies on changes being in the interests of the whole enterprise.

In some organisations teamworking has been imposed as part of a survival package despite opposition from the unions. This is a risky strategy, posing a threat to the long-term success of teamworking which depends to a large extent on trust and co-operation. Managers must acknowledge the genuine anxieties of the workforce, often articulated by the trade unions. A commitment to a participative approach where unions and management recognise each other as partners offers the best chance of success.

Experience in manufacturing companies has revealed many examples of progress stalling because unions were not involved early enough. In some cases, work on the introduction of teamwork had to be redone before further progress could be made.

For organisations associated with the Teamworking in Manufacturing (TIM) project, one approach was to negotiate an enabling agreement with trade unions. This was a commitment by the union to the introduction of new working practices and associated organisational changes, often in exchange for commitments from the employer to training, development and job security.

Many systems and practices will need to be examined to ensure they support the move to teamworking and this is often best done jointly by management and employee representatives. Traditional methods of dealing with discipline, grievance and absence control, for example, may no longer be appropriate. Where alterations are needed to contracts of employment these should be agreed with individuals or through collective agreements between employers and employees representatives (notes section 7).

Training and developing employees

Moving to multi-skilled teams will alter the range and style of working. Employees who previously operated, say, a single machine may be expected to perform a range of tasks including some previously associated with clerical workers or supervisors. The first stage is to make an assessment of training needs. Typically training needs identified will include:

  • additional skills training to enable team members to be able to operate with the required flexibility. In manufacturing this may include being able to operate a range of machines but may also incorporate skills such as the operation of computers and record keeping
  • interpersonal and team building skills to help team members communicate with each other, deal constructively with conflict and criticism and recognise the value and achievements of others
  • problem solving skills and techniques such as the use of control charts, brainstorming and 'fish bone' diagrams
  • leadership training for one or more team members.

Where appropriate, the trade unions should be involved at all stages in the design and development of the training strategy.

Technical skills will make up an important part of any training programme, particularly where an organisation is moving to multi-skilling. Experience has shown that interpersonal skills training is just as important, in order to help employees and managers move into new groupings and changed relationships.

As with any form of training there is a need for managers to discuss the purpose and results of training with trainees and for the skills and knowledge learned to be reinforced through practice and coaching.

A choice has to be made about who will carry out the training - internal or external trainers. Many companies like to develop their own capacity for training and quite frequently devolve training to operator level. Another option especially for technical training is to use supervisors who may have gained their position on the basis of technical knowledge but would not be suitable for a new role as team leader. Their technical expertise can make them effective and credible trainers.

The ability to carry out interpersonal skills training - such as conducting meetings, dealing with group friction and team building - may be more rarely found within the organisation. For this type of training some outside expertise, at least initially, may be essential.

It is important that training is not seen as a one-off exercise. People need training to prepare them for teamworking followed by further training as teams develop. Arrangements should be made to gather feedback on the effectiveness of training. In particular, team members should be encouraged to discuss how the reality of teamworking compares with their expectations before it was introduced.

Appraising employees

There are usually two elements to employee appraisal:

  • an appraisal of performance, linked to work objectives upon which pay is often based
  • an assessment of development covering personal skills, knowledge and experience linked to future potential.

Companies that are introducing or reinforcing teamworking generally emphasise the developmental advantages of appraisals rather than mere assessment or performance rating of individuals. For this reason appraisal reviews may be better termed employee development reviews. The complex relationships of teamworking may mean that employee development needs should be based on more than a single assessment of an individual by his or her line manager. Thus companies are showing interest in self-assessment, peer assessment, upward assessment (assessment of a manager by his or her subordinates) or a combination of all these, known as 360° feedback.

Employee development reviews regularly record an assessment of an employee's performance, potential and development needs. This process can be particularly important in developing teams with the right mix of skills and knowledge. The review is an opportunity to take an overall view of work content, loads and volume, to look back on what has been achieved during the reporting period and agree objectives and development needs for the next (notes section 8). Reviews are also sometimes used as a basis for performance related pay (also known as merit pay). Possible problems with linking reviews and pay are discussed below under 'merit pay'.

Paying and rewarding employees

It is important when introducing teamwork to make any necessary changes to the reward system so that it supports the new ethos. The philosophy of teamwork with its emphasis on involvement, co-operation and quality may be at odds with existing systems of payment. This is especially true if systems have been designed largely to motivate individuals to produce quantity. Remember that pay and rewards are only a part and not necessarily the only means of motivating employees. More importance should often be given to developing and involving employees so that they are committed to the success of the organisation. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of various ways of rewarding employees are discussed below. Further information can be found in the Acas Advisory booklet - Pay systems.

An Acas Occasional Paper suggests that 'All approaches to motivating and rewarding employees have their advantages and disadvantages' (notes section 9). What is needed, when designing a new reward system, is a careful analysis of the make-up, needs and wishes of employees and their representatives and the needs of the organisation. This should include identifying and rewarding attitudes and behaviours conducive to teamworking such as:

  • learning new skills to increase flexibility within the team
  • personal development
  • taking on increased responsibility for planning and carrying out tasks
  • co-operation
  • innovation
  • problem solving.

Paying for skills

Paying for skills is popular in organisations that favour teamworking. It aims to bring greater flexibility by encouraging employees to take on a wider range of skills. Under these conditions, employees can take a broader perspective of the organisation's role and are better equipped to contribute to the problem-solving and decision-making processes. All of these advantages are favourable for successful teamworking but as with any method of payment there are attendant disadvantages. These include:

  • the high demand for training and the considerable resources required to satisfy the demand
  • the danger that more people may demand training in skills than is necessary to perform the required tasks.

Group incentives

Paying bonuses to teams or larger groupings of workers is often seen as a way to avoid the potentially divisive nature of individual incentives, which are discussed below. Traditionally this has been done by linking bonuses to productivity improvement or more complex added value schemes. More recently there has been interest in new forms of added value or 'gainsharing' schemes where pay is increased as sales improve in relation to wages and salaries.

There is also interest, especially in the United States, in focusing gainshare on a range of improvements according to the specific needs of the business. These may include aspects such as quality, productivity, safety and waste. The money saved - for example, from: improvements in quality and productivity; fewer accidents; and reduced waste - is shared. The aim of gainsharing is to involve employees and increase awareness of the cost implications of their efforts by rewarding improvement and can be adapted for use in both manufacturing and service industries.

Group incentive schemes can help co-operation within teams although care needs to be taken that harmful inter-team rivalry is not created. One drawback of schemes which provide group bonuses is that their direct incentive value tends to be weak. Another disadvantage of some schemes is that windfall payments can arise that bear little relation to any additional effort by the workers.

Share incentive schemes

Share incentive schemes involve the provision of shares to employees - either by giving them direct or allowing them to be bought. They are felt to be appropriate by many companies which operate teamworking, as they provide a way of sharing company success with employees. However, it is not always helpful to a company's finances to have a constant turnover of shareholders.

Individual incentives

Companies moving to teamworking should ask themselves whether individual incentive payments encourage team members to work with the intelligence, flexibility, co-operation and emphasis on the product or service quality required. The use of individual incentive payments based on improvements in output continue to be popular. Those who advocate this approach point out that, in many cases, the offer of more money to individuals in return for producing more, usually results in more being produced. In many contexts, however, a straightforward increase in output is not necessarily to the benefit of the company, particularly those striving for improved quality. Many organisations can point to instances where large stocks of unsaleable goods have been produced because supply is out of line with sales. In other instances workers on bonus may add to a stockpile of goods which cannot be further processed because of a bottleneck at a later stage of production. As organisations introduce teamwork, which relies on co-operation and interdependency, they usually find individual incentives inappropriate or impossible to calculate.

Merit pay

Organisations introducing teamworking should consider carefully whether the negative aspects of merit pay outweigh any motivational benefits for individuals. Individual merit pay, tied to some form of performance review, is used by many organisations. It is often introduced as a way of retaining high performance staff and to tie rewards directly to effort.

In a teamworking context, merit pay may lead to harmful competition. It is tempting for some individuals not to share knowledge in an attempt to show themselves in a better light. Some firms try to get round this by including an assessment of the contribution that individuals make to the team in the overall review of performance.

Merit pay can also de-motivate satisfactory performers who see colleagues gaining higher rewards. This problem can be especially acute where the methods of assessment, or those carrying out the assessment, are seen as unfair. It is important therefore, when designing a merit pay scheme to make it as fair and objective as possible. Further information about merit pay can be found in the Acas Advisory Booklet: Appraisal Related Pay. Whatever adjustments are made to a merit pay system it is doubtful whether it can ever help to reinforce the co-operative behaviours required for successful teamworking.

Evaluating jobs

Companies frequently like to base payment systems on a structured grading scheme determined by job evaluation. Many of these schemes, however, do not cope with the requirement of employees in teams to acquire new skills and work flexibly. The need for constant revisions to job descriptions and re-evaluation of jobs can become a costly impediment to change.

Organisations have developed various ways of overcoming this problem - for instance by:

  • paying employees for their skills and knowledge rather than the requirements of the job
  • developing a few broadly defined grades within which defined skill levels provide a basis for salary increases
  • evaluating jobs on a group basis where the team is responsible for a set of tasks and team members receive the same base pay.

For further information on Job Evaluation see Acas Advisory booklet - Job evaluation: considerations and risks.

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