Self-Directed Work Teams Offer Better Efficiency

While working as a team, everyone brings their own “specialty” or unique skill set to the table to create one strong, intelligent force. With self-directed work teams, each team of workers is given full responsibility for their work orders—scheduling them and making sure they have the necessary materials to complete the job.


In many aspects of life, people working together as a team often produces faster and sometimes more accurate results than when working solo. While working as a team, everyone brings their own “specialty” or unique skill set to the table to create one strong, intelligent force.

This is true for manufacturing as well. Look at the lean manufacturing practice of self-directed work teams. Each team of workers is given full responsibility for their work orders—scheduling them and making sure they have the necessary materials to complete the job.

At Swissturn/USA in Oxford, Massachusetts, each of the company’s self-directed work teams has its own coordinator, setup personnel, operators, inspector and trainee, according to “Teaming Up in the Swiss Shop.” The company creates teams to bring each person who works on a particular job closer to the process. That way, they are all equally responsible for getting the job out the door. This also helps everyone get to know the job better, so when a repeat job comes back, it goes to the same team who is already familiar with it.

At Vanamatic Company in Delphos, Ohio, a cellular-based production system has been adopted that includes a team-oriented approach to better fit its cellular system, according to “Moving Forward with Self-Directed Work Teams.” The teams were put together using a behavioral assessment program, which helped recognize various learning patterns in individuals and aided management in creating teams with successful chemistry.

Vanamatic experienced an improvement in change-over times for the shop’s multi-spindle machines after implementing self-directed work teams. Prior to using teams, the change-over time was in the 17-hour range for these machines, which resulted in about 300 setups per year. But after it began using the team approach, the average time was 3.5 hours, which allowed almost 1,000 setups—a significant improvement.   

To learn more about the benefits of self-directed work teams for lean manufacturing, visit these articles, as well as PM’s Lean Manufacturing Zone.