AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Design Team (redesigning work for higher satisfaction)

Copyright 1994 AXIS Performance Advisors, Inc.

Design Team as Tour Guide

[The following is a synopsis of an article to be published in the Journal
for Quality and Participation.]

Work RedesignAs part of the journey toward self-directed teams, most organizations form a design team, a temporary task force chartered with the responsibility to figure out how the concept of self-direction will be applied in their workplace. Composed primarily of front-line employees with little or no training in work redesign principles, these design teams typically struggle. This article is intended to explain the common problems they encounter and provide practical solutions for how to overcome them.

Design teams are responsible for making recommendations about how to
redesign work around self-directed teams. This involves reviewing and improving
the technical aspects of the work such as work process, methods, technology,
and physical layout. It also includes reviewing and improving the social
aspects of work such as team structure, roles/responsibilities, reward systems,
and group norms. Ultimately, they must generate recommendations which represent
an optimal balance. Often this journey takes them into murky, uncharted
waters. Here are some of the most common sandbars to avoid:

Lack of clear purpose and appropriate involvement

Design teams are often led to believe that their role is to make decisions
for their teammates. This drives a wedge between the design team and the
rest of the employees. A design team is better off viewing itself as a tour
guide. Good tour guides seek to understand your interests and then identify
interesting places to go and things to see. They explain what you should
do before the trip and what you should take with you. They help you understand
what you are seeing and experiencing. Tour guides do a lot of the tedious
analysis and planning for you. Most of all, tour guides recognize that they
cannot take your trip for you. Design teams should do the same. Their job
is not to communicate; it is to EDUCATE.

Weak confidence

Design team members often need preparation to participate effectively.
Here are some actions managers can take which will increase the design team’s

  • Give them training on self-direction, work redesign, and managing change.
  • Provide them relatively easy, less threatening tasks at first.
  • Establish more than one design team at a time so they can learn from
    and support each other.
  • Take the design team and their coworkers on site visits to other organizations
    which are further along in the process.
  • Tell them that every mistake is an opportunity for someone else to
    take responsibility and demonstrate unwavering support for their efforts.

    Unfamiliarity with their tasks

    Rarely do design team members have any experience with their task. A
    step-by-step process can keep them from getting lost. We wrote the Work
    Redesign Team Handbook initially for a client whose design teams were hopelessly

    Unfair labor practices

    The National Labor Relations Board has sent ripples of concern throughout
    organizations about its position on empowerment. Based on our interviews
    with NLRB agents and reviews of their case findings, we believe they support
    empowerment. They are against manipulation of employees: making them think
    they are empowered or putting the union at a disadvantage. To be safe discuss
    this issue with your corporate attorney or human resource executive before
    setting up a design team.


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