Designing Self-Directed Work Teams

About five decades ago sociotechnical practitioners discovered the concept of the autonomous group as a cornerstone of organizations. Based on the well-known coalmine case of Durham, it was shown that the application of this concept did not only have positive results on productivity but also on the quality of working life (Trist & Bamforth, 1951). For the first time, a relationship was established between the "technical system" and the "social system" of organizations. Researchers arrived at the conclusion that many problems of the social system were rooted in the technical system, and, conversely, that improvement of the technical system did not automatically lead to better results because the social system was not improved concurrently along the same lines. They demonstrated that the mechanization of the production process had caused a radical division of labour. Also they argued that a close interconnection exists between this classic form of organization and negative social consequences - such as increases in absenteeism, labour conflicts, and accidents - and clearly negative economic consequences, namely, low productivity. Based on this knowledge, a new form of organization was developed in which small groups of miners performed a complete task on their own. Remarkably, the improvements at both economic and social levels were substantial. The outcome of these experiments was the novel idea that advances in production technology (or mechanization) do not have to lead automatically to better results, nor do they necessarily require one method of production organization.
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Branche: Management / HRM
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