The First Element: Jobs and Teams


Empowered Jobs

Employee initiative and the ability to work without close supervision are highly cherished: architects, midwives and refuse collectors perform their jobs well because they make on-the-spot decisions based on background knowledge and experience of ‘what works’.

They avoid delays caused by unnecessary referral to managers or manuals.

In the best cases they make time to learn and to reflect on what is working well and what should be changed. This generates steady flows of improvement and innovation. Such employees may also enjoy discretion in scheduling their own work and in controlling its pace, minimising physical strain and psychological stress.

Karasek’s Demand-Control Model of Occupational Stress

Karasek’s model has had a large influence because it is straightforward and practical. Workplace stress is a function of how demanding a person’s job is (factors include interruption rate, time pressures, conflicting demands, reaction time required, pace of work, proportion of work performed under pressure, amount of work, degree of concentration required, and the slowing down of work caused by the need to wait for others) and how much control the person has over their own responsibilities. Control includes the ability to make decisions about their own job, move between a variety of tasks, low levels of repetitiveness, opportunities for creativity, learning and problem solving, and influence in their own work team and in the wider organisation.

Trust is vital. Employees can often help their customers and colleagues more effectively when they’re trusted to use their judgement. Moreover in exercising discretion employees acquire skills that are transferable, increasing their adaptability and resilience within the organisation and their employability outside it, even in quite different occupations.

Self-Managed Teams

Many organisations claim that their people work in teams. But are those teams simply groups of people who sit together and report to the same manager, but rarely co-operate with each other? Some work psychologists call these pseudo teams.

We’re concerned with real teams, teams where people share knowledge and problems, where they break down barriers and demarcations, and generate ideas for improvement, innovation and growth using the insight that day-to-day work experiences give them. We know from a vast amount of research that these teams are more productive in factories and offices, they provide better customer service, and even save lives in places like hospitals.

 Good teams

  • Good teams are clear about their shared tasks, and about precisely who is part of the team. Once teams grow larger than 8 – 10 members it becomes difficult to maintain cohesion.
  • They are clear about the skills the team needs to achieve its purpose.
  • The team is empowered to make appropriate choices about recruitment, and recognises the important of recruiting people who are good at collaboration and sharing.
  • Team members need to understand clearly their roles and the roles of other team members, so there is no ambiguity about who is responsible and accountable for each task.
  • Good teams set themselves clear, challenging and measureable objectives every year. 
    The aim is not just to get the job done but to achieve significant improvements and innovations. Progress towards achieving these objectives forms an important part of regular team meetings.
  • Well-functioning teams assess and seek to improve their effectiveness in working with other teams inside (and sometimes beyond) the organisation.
  • Teams with a supportive, humorous and appreciative atmosphere deliver better results and their members are significantly less stressed. They are more optimistic, cohesive and have a stronger sense of their efficacy as a team.
  • Teams must also meet regularly and have useful discussions, enabling them to reflect on how well they work together and how to improve. Teams that regularly change ways of working are not only more productive but also more innovative than teams that don’t. ‘We haven’t got time’ is therefore an unacceptable excuse. Such teams are also better able to respond to work pressures and adversity by innovating rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless.

[Adapted from Professor Michael West, Effective Teamwork]

Principles of good job design
UK Health and Safety Executive Stress at Work tools
EderfilBecker case study and film 

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