Empowered Employees a New Team Concept

By Mary Hellinghausen and Jim Myers

One of today\'s biggest buzzwords is Teams. Most companies are leaning toward a team concept. One way to enforce teams is by empowering employees. Many companies striving to edge their competition are turning to the empowered employee teams initiative.

Most businesses want to achieve total customer satisfaction by anticipating and solving a problem before it occurs. Thus a new kind of team has emerged with the goal of insuring customer satisfaction from the start. Empowered teams are built with empowered people whom have the authority and autonomy to make significant changes within the organization. Instead of one individual making decisions, the group or team makes decisions collectively with the middle manager position eliminated or acting as the coach. The use of these empowered teams is to solve problems, lower costs, increase quality, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction.

Throwing people together does not always mean they should be called a team. They must first be made up of the right people who understand and can define a task. The strength of the team depends on proper training, timing, and communication. The idea to change the cooperate culture must have full support from senior management. Before a team is created, the project to be completed must be defined, identify how much of empowerment is needed, and recruit the best people to work on the problem.

The article mentions companies like McGraw-Hill, Motorola, and General Electric are examples of companies who empowered teams. McGraw-Hill, for example; defines a team composed of a staff member, designer, grammarian, production line personnel, and editor who serves as the team facilitator. Recruiting the right people insuring they represent the cross-section of disciplines required is very important. One person missing out of this formula can ruin a team.

Motorola, a 1998 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Winner, has developed a culture of high standards. They conquered initiatives such as Six Sigma, Designing for Manufacturability, and Cycle Time Reduction. They are living proof that empowered people from the lowest position to highest position changes an organization dramatically. Six Sigma is a measure of quality performance on defects. It equates to 3.4 defects per 1 million opportunities. Empowered teams were a crucial element of the initiative success.

General Electric Aircraft Engine Division (GEAE) brought in a team of Motorola facilitator\'s to help them setup empowered teams for their supplier improvement program. The 300 million-dollar investment is starting to deliver 600 million to 700 million dollars in savings. The teams covered all aspects from manufacturing, engineering, to outsourcing. GEAE\'s end result was improved products, service, and most importantly customer satisfaction.

Within every team, a cross-functioning method must be used for the team to be successful. If one of the team members is hard to get along with, they still can be beneficial to the team. Everyone\'s input is important, the output of the team is greater than any individual\'s output. A strong facilitator is also needed on the team. The facilitator guides rather than leads. Usually middle management, this person is set equal to the other members of the team. The facilitator must recognize and understand each member\'s participation, as well as, coordinate the reporting progress.

In order for team to be successful, senior management must be committed to recognize the team should be put in charge. This is done only when senior management defines a specific goal for the team to strive for. Too much management can kill a team. The team might spend more time on reporting the progress than the task that needs to be completed. Middle management is the biggest obstacle for teams. To be successful, middle management must surrender its power and let the team empower themselves. Setting time limits are also important to the team success. Never let a team go beyond six months, everyday should be treated as an important day.

Training is also important for team to succeed. According to Eric Sakurai, a trained team member of GEAE mentions: GEAE is requiring higher-quality products from its suppliers and is willing to help them reach Six Sigma quality by providing the necessary training. Everyone in the organization including all suppliers must work together to improve customer satisfaction.

Team rewards can be based on either individual performance or the team as a whole. This doesn\'t