The organization of the future will be a very different place, but not like something we have not already experienced. The movement toward total quality is unstoppable.

Already tens of thousands of organizations of all sizes have responded to the call of the quality movement, undertaking a variety of programs in all too often ill-advised attempts to achieve quality through measurement and statistics or through exhortation and sloganeering.A principle condition of quality management is the involvement of all employees, through teams, in improving the organization. The organizations that have achieved the greatest degree of success are those who have undertaken to develop strong team cultures and team-based work relationships.

Organizations that emphasize team relationships also tend to implement other innovations and cultural changes that lead to continually improved performance, quality, service and growth. Our data show that organizations working with strong team cultures have, on average, reduced labor hours per unit of output by 50 percent, finished unit inventories by 75 percent, engineering time by 50 percent, hours to repair assembled units by 80 percent and defects per unit by 60 percent.

Many organizations begin the move to "teams" by organizing committees or task forces. This seems to be the safest technique, and "managers" can usually keep control. It is not enough, however. The committee method brings more problems and fewer solutions.

Here is how the most successful organizations make the shift. The focus in the organization moves from vertical or hierarchical to horizontal. The emphasis shifts from accountability of "the boss," to accountability of the team. Empowerment, a currently popular but badly misunderstood term, becomes pervasive. The orientation of everyone is up and downstream, working with co-workers rather than up and down the channels and "chain of authority."

To be empowered, a person, or better, a team, must have the authority to make virtually any decision or initiate any action that comes to him or her with no escalation, no higher order approvals and no second-guessing. Teams of operators, professionals and specialists are organized around responsibilities or outputs directed toward their internal or external customers. They are trained in the basic team skills, communication skills, problem solving, service improvement, quality management, performance measurement techniques, etc.

The supervisor's job changes drastically. He or she shifts from boss to coach. His or her accountability shifts to meeting the needs of and collaborating with his or her team of supervisors - not to "boss" others.

Coaching becomes the primary focus of attention. Supervisors form into resource teams responding to the needs, requirements and problems of the operation team. Supervisors become collectively responsible for the performance of the entire area, not just for the work of their own "subordinates." Technical teams are also formed for the purpose of strengthening the operations teams in areas requiring technical expertise.

The focus of the technical team is on improving the quality of, and delivery of, their services to their customers - i.e., the resource teams (supervisors) - and the operating teams. Competition between teams within the organization gives way to collaboration. Teams begin to link to other teams - usually with customers and vendors (internal and external). When problems cut across functional or operating areas, the supervisors, representing a natural work team, lead QUALITYContinued from D?

the effort by working with members of the involved operating team.

Business Week Magazine has reported "self-management teams appear to be the wave of the future." As teams mature, they take on more and more responsibility for customer service, productivity, inventory levels, quality, selection of new team members, goal setting, scheduling, problem solving, training/learning and peer reviews.

While the supervisory teams work on the system, operating teams work on the system. Supervisors and staff experts give up the controls and turn control over to the teams. Imagine a school system in which the board and the administration work together as a strategic team.

A system in which a team of principals is responsible for all education in the community instead of simply directing the efforts of employees in their schools. They report as a team to the management team. Teams of teachers work with parents, and they report to the teams of principals. This is the future of the education establishment.

Too often, teamwork has come to mean subverting personal interests, compliance with the team's wishes or being a good loser. Organizational teamwork, although personally satisfying and rewarding, must, at the same time, be aggressive and driven. While harmony is sought, so too is innovation, change and challenges to the status quo.

For a team to function in an environment in which good enough never is, trust, personal confidence, competence, risk taking and other continuous improvement processes must be carefully managed. There is no rest. As each goal is accomplished, the bar is raised and the new challenge becomes even more invigorating. Our advice is to be very wary and very cautious when launching a team-based organizational culture. It takes more than just a few words from a well-meaning boss. But if it's results that matter most - don't delay.

Ed Yager is a Park City based trainer and consultant who has implemented team-based processes in virtually every type and size organization all over the United States.