L&D/PI: Using Teams to Implement Quality (1994)

From My Firm’s Pursuing Performance Newsletter in 1994

Collaboration for Improving the Business

Using Teams to Implement Quality

by Ray Svenson, Karen Wallace, and Guy Wallace

Improving performance by efficiently implementing tools and techniques from the
quality movement throughout an organization requires using teams – the right
teams, teams in the right structure, and teams devoted to the right projects and/or
processes. Each team must act within the context of the organization’s entire
quality/business effort. Each team must have its place within an established, formal
hierarchy of teams at all levels of the organization. And each must undergo its own
“life cycle” from formation to excellence, a life cycle that depends on planning and
support from the leadership of the organization.


Three Types of Teams. Teams for implementing and managing the quality effort are
different than work teams. While some teams may be permanent, many are
temporary. A sample overall team structure is shown below.

swi-newsletter-1994-1-spring_Page_01 - Copy (2)

The hierarchy includes teams of three types

• An executive leadership team (ELT)
• Process steering teams
• Project improvement teams (PITs).

The executive leadership team and the process steering teams are permanent parts
of the organization. Project improvement teams respond to specific issues; they
dissolve as the issues are resolved.


The executive leadership team provides overall leadership to the improvement
effort. (This team can go by names other than ELT;it’s the concept behind the team
that’s important, not the name.) The executive leadership team:

• Establishes the mission, vision, and values
• Develops a business architecture
• Establishes executive-level owners of key processes
• Conducts company-level assessments
• Develops company-level improvement plans and priorities
• Establishes, sponsors, and charters process steering teams
• Establishes, sponsors, and charters company-level improvement project teams
• Maps company-level leadership processes
• Ensures that improvement projects integrate with overall company processes
• Manages the empowerment and accountability of subordinate teams
• Advocates and communicates TQM concepts, goals, and structure inside and
outside the business; “walks the talk.”

swi-newsletter-1994-1-spring_Page_02 - Copy

The ELTis permanent. The business may already have this team in place under the
guise of some sort of cross-functional senior committee; with enough emphasis on
quality, this committee becomes the ELT.Members remain in their functional areas,
providing (through their roles on the ELT)the control and direction necessary for
organizational improvement.


Working at lower levels than the executive leadership team are process steering
teams. Each process steering team focuses on a particular process and searches for
improvement opportunities. The team prioritizes the opportunities, then determines
how each opportunity fits into the overall business strategy handed down
from the executive leadership team. A process steering team can be the process
team or leadership team for a major location – such as a plant – or for a process
such as sales. Cross-functional in either case, the process steering team:

• Identifies function/process business architecture
• Conducts assessments
• Devises improvement plans and priorities based on the company plan
• Builds a function/process-level measurement hierarchy
• Establishes, sponsors, and charters improvement team projects
• Maps and improves selected processes
• Ensures that improvements are properly integrated into the organization
• Manages the empowerment and accountability of improvement teams
• Provides support and resources to improvement teams
• Reports improvement results to the executive leadership team.


Process steering teams, like the ELT,are permanent. Members are from various
functional disciplines and may be involved in the process to be improved as participants,
suppliers, or customers (internal or external). Membership on the team is
usually not a full-time job, although one or two of the members may spend most or
all of their time in team activities.

Process steering teams deploy strategy to lower levels by sponsoring and chartering
project improvement teams consisting of stakeholders in the areas to be improved.
For example, a team with the charter to improve the product development process
might include representatives from engineering, marketing, R&D,finance, business
planning, and manufacturing. By incorporating the points of view and expertise
from the various functional areas, the team has a much better chance of effectively
implementing improvements than any single individual acting alone or any collection
of individuals from a single function. The cross-functional team interaction is
likely to expedite the improvement process, and it will also provide a vital synergy
likely to make the improvement more effective. (Again: PITs are not equivalent to
work teams. The members of work teams are busy performing the daily work of the

Improvement teams:

• Prepare project plans
• Assess improvement potential
• Design and test improvements


• Prepare plans for deploying their improvements
• Oversee and support deployment
• Report deployment results
• Assess issues of integration
• Recommend or negotiate integration with other processes and systems.

Improvement teams make the improvements the organization is looking for. In
terms of the metaphor we use in The Quality Roadmap, this is where “the rubber
meets the road.”

Project improvement teams work at any level. An improvement team comprised of
members of the executive leadership team may work on high-level projects. Other
teams are active at the middle management level and at the working level. Unlike
the ELTand steering teams, however, PITs are temporary, dissolving once their
chartered improvements are in place.

Not Just Teams. Three other elements in a team structure help companies implement
quality and operate with quality. Sponsors are connections between different
types of teams. Sponsors charter improvement teams, act as advocates for a team,
help it obtain resources, help clear roadblocks, and provide reward and recognition
to the team. A sponsor is a major stakeholder in the team’s objectives; the sponsor
may even be the owner of the process to be improved. It is the sponsor who is the
link between the improvement team and the executive leadership team or steering

Also with a vital place in the team structure is the organization’s chief executive.
The CEO chairs the executive leadership team and provides overall strategic direction
to the TQM effort. Active leadership and a strong commitment from this person
are essential to the success of a quality effort.

A third crucial element is communication. Not only must overall direction and
strategy be formulated by the ELTand steering teams, these must be communicated
to the project improvement teams. Otherwise the PITs will remain adrift in a sea of
corporate ambiguity with no destination, no direction.

Benefits of a Hierarchical Team Structure. What does this hierarchical structure
add to the TQM effort? It allows for a strategic deployment of resources toward
improvements that will most benefit the organization. It also allows TQM efforts to
be integrated by virtue of the attention being paid at the highest levels of the

Each improvement team is chartered and sponsored by a higher-level team. This
means that no “dangling” teams waste effort on misguided missions, projects we
classify as “water cooler” projects. Each team has a specific focus; each team has a
well-defined direction.

Within this framework, strategic direction and investment resources flow from the
top down. Improvement results flow from the bottom up.


Establishing Teams. As they’re chartered and organized, teams go through a rather
predictable series of stages in their development. In conjunction with our strategic
partner Prism Performance Systems (PPS) and Prism Custom Development Services
(PCDS),we’ve developed a model for team development – a model that can be used to accelerate the development of teams and prevent the development of
dysfunctional teams. More about that model in the next issue of Pursuing

Whether or not an organization reorganizes into a horizontal corporation using work
teams (see the accompanying sidebar) depends on the nature of an organization’s
business. We believe that the use of teams in implementing quality into an organization
requires the use of properly structured and chartered ELTs,process steering
teams, and PITs. These teams are crucial to any quality effort.

********** ********** **********

This article is adapted from The Quality Roadmap: How to Get Your Company on
the Quality Track – And Keep It There, authored by the principals of SWI •
Svenson & Wallace, Inc. See Page 14 for more information about this book.

1994 QRM Book Cover

# # #


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.