Self-Directed Work Teams at an Aerospace Company

Keywords Self-Directed Work Teams at an Aerospace Company aerospace
Standards groups

The concept of a production system as a socio-technical
system designates a general field of study concerned with
the interrelations of the technical and socio-psychological
organization of industrial production systems.... The
concept of a socio-technical system arose from the
consideration that any production system requires both a
technological organization -equipment and process layout and
a work organization relating to each other who carry
out the necessary tasks. The technological demands place
limits on the type of work organization possible, but a work
organization has social and psychological properties of its
own that are independent of technology.....A sociotechnical
system must also satisfy the financial conditions
of the industry of which it is a part. It must have economic
validity. It has in fact social, technological and economic
dimensions, all of which are interdependent but all of
which have independent values of their own.

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Self-Directed Work Teams (SDWTs) are a logical extension of the Socio-Technical Systems (STS) approach to organizational design. STSs seek to balance the business environment, technical aspects of the firm and the social aspects of the worker to achieve
optimality. SDWTs, if operating effectively, strive to achieve this balance, evolving as the technical, social or business conditions change. SDWTs have not absolutely proven themselves to be a better organizational form in rigorous controlled experiments, but this may have been due to uncontrolled environmental factors. Anecdotal evidence, such as the example presented here, is positive but it is clouded by uncontrolled technological
innovation introduced at the same time the SDWTs were introduced.
The introduction of SDWTs to a medium sized aerospace company at a “Mature Plant” and at a “Satellite Plant” was studied. Both plants contrast each other in a variety of ways: union/non-union, older/younger plants, near corporate headquarters/satellite,
focussed factory/multiple products-multiple processes. The results for the Satellite Plant have been extremely positive. The Mature Plant, just having started the transition to SDWTs, has yet to realize the benefits. The introduction of the SDWTs were enabled by the existence of manufacturing cells, team training, the backing of the labor union (which represented the employees at the Mature Plant) and the identification and elimination of blockers in the management ranks.

Eric C. Sorenson
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