He International Journal of Human Resource Management

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The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 20, No. 2, February 2009, 399–419

Development and performance of self-managing work teams: a theoretical and empirical examination Ben. S. Kuipersa* and Janka I. Stokerb

Faculty of Social Sciences, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands; bFaculty of Economics and Business, University of Groningen, The Netherlands Several theories have been developed that prescribe the team development of selfmanaging work teams (SMWTs). Some of these have led to models with successive linear developmental phases. However, both the theory and the empirical data show little support for these models. Based on an extensive review of team development literature, we propose, instead of linear phases, describing team development in three general team processes. These processes, internal relations, task management, and external relations and improvement, were empirically explored in a longitudinal fieldstudy of more than 150 blue-collar and white-collar SMWTs in a Volvo plant in Sweden. The three processes were found to be consistent over time and appeared to relate to one-year-later objective SMWT performance measures for product quality, the incidence of sick-leave and long-term sick-leave. Based on these findings, a resultoriented team development approach is proposed, in which the achieved results determine the processes followed to develop SMWTs further. Also, managers and HR practitioners are encouraged to monitor the three ongoing team processes and to relate these to the desired team performance. Such an analysis should be the starting point of a dialogue between manager and team to improve the functioning and performance of SMWTs. Keywords: business performance; quality of working life; self-managing work teams; team development; team processes

Introduction The use of teams has grown increasingly popular in organizations over recent decades (witnessed by the special issue of The International Journal of Human Resource Management in February 2005). Many publications in professional journals and the applied press have appeared (see O’Connell, Doverspike and Cober 2002). In their summary and review of research on teams, Cohen and Bailey (1997) define four different team types: work, parallel, project, and management. Self-Managing Work Teams (SMWTs) are a particular form of work team (Spreitzer, Cohen and Ledford 1999) and are the focus of this paper. They can be defined as groups of interdependent individuals that are able to self-regulate their behaviour concerning relatively complete tasks (Spreitzer et al. 1999). Self-management refers to a ‘reduced need for hierarchical command and control leadership’ (Morgeson 2005) in organizations. SMWTs are adopted in many organizations in order to improve performance and the wellbeing of employees (Hackman 1990; Manz and Sims 1993; Cascio 1995; Cohen, Ledford and Spreitzer 1996; Spreitzer et al. 1999).

*Corresponding author. Email: kuipers@fsw.eur.nl
ISSN 0958-5192 print/ISSN 1466-4399 online q 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/09585190802670797 http://www.informaworld.com


B.S. Kuipers and J.I. Stoker

An important, and not necessarily straightforward, issue in achieving self-management is the development path towards this goal. The main line of thinking in several publications on this subject is that the development of SMWTs can be described in distinct linear phases (Katzenbach and Smith 1993; Zenger, Musselwhite, Hurson and Perrin 1994; Van Amelsvoort and Benders 1996). However, O’Connell et al. (2002) observe that such publications seldom contain empirical support for this statement. Although some research has vigorously investigated these prescriptive linear phases (see, for example, Miller 2003), the debate on team development in academic journals has focused more on theoretical descriptive frameworks and the taxonomies of team processes (Marks, Mathieu and Zaccaro 2001). Unfortunately, these articles...