Team development has been deemed the holy grail, the organizational wonder drug that is transforming the U.S. automotive industry into a competitive powerhouse.
But it's not "an immaculate conception," says G. Glenn Gardner, who ledCorp.'s full-size LH platform team from start-up in 1988 until the cars moved into production during 1992.
Mr. Gardner retired in 1994 as general manager of's Large Car Platform Group. He should know a lot about teaming: His LH group set the pattern for the No. 3 automaker's full-bore drive into platform teams. In the process Chrysler shucked its traditional vertical "chimneys," or organizations devoted to a single discipline such as manufacturing or engineering.
Corp. and Motor Co. also have leaped on the team bandwagon, but not nearly as pervasively as Chrysler. Ford 2000, the company's global product-development scheme that began taking hold a year ago, divides vehicle programs into five categories with team members drawn from key disciplines, but strong "core" support organizations remain. GM is in the process of putting its product development under the umbrella of vehicle line executives," or VLES, who in turn draw on talents of a variety of specialists. Still, GM is not bulldozing its longstanding chimneys.
Teams are hardly a new phenomena. U.S. automotive history is filled with examples of hardy little bands of zealots who got together and made things happen. The original Corvette and Mustang teams are two excellent examples.
The big difference is that teamwork now has become formalized. The chief driving force is competition to get new cars and trucks on the market faster and at lower costs. By pulling together all of the necessary experts into a single group and freeing them to make decisions together, the idea is to knock down time- and moneywasting barriers. It's called "empowerment," and it quickly has become the industry's favorite buzzword.
What's less well understood is the impact the team movement is having on the careers of the folks in the ranks. Until quite recently, not a great deal of thought was given to critical personal elements of teaming such as career paths, performance evaluations, promotions and salary levels.
Team prospects also have to consider whether they'll lose ground to their peers who remain in the "home" organizations. Offsetting this concern is the fact that serving on a team is rapidly becoming a major item on resumes -- especially if the team is successful.
Emotions also come into play. Some people simply don't fit the team profile. They may be too shy or too aggressive -- or what's charitably called "deadwood" cast off by their home groups. And after the team disbands, breaking up is hard to do. Says Mr. Gardner: "It's horrible; it's unbelievably bad."
To gain insight into the pros and cons of teaming, WAW interviewed a variety of Big Three team members and leaders. What's clear is that most problems stem from having to answer to two bosses: the one back in the chimney and the team boss.
Consider, for example, the experience of Eileen Moeller-Zilch. Now an envangelist for teams, she was recruited from's finance staff in 1991 to serve as finance manager of the '94 Mustang team, where she spent about 18 months. She's now back home, managing operational analysis in the purchasing controller's office.
While working on the team, "the single most difficult challenge me," she says, was trying to balance my responsibilities to my vehicle line program and then to my home organization, the finance community."
Sometimes she had to drive several times a day two or three miles from the Mustang team's facility to Ford Headquarters for consultations. To save time, she ate many meals in her car, steering one-handed and dribbling Big Mac residue on her lap. Call it the Big Mac factor in team dynamics.
In their 1990s incarnation, top brass is entrusting teams with enormous freedom and responsibility, which in itself can be scary. "It can be quite frightening," says Colin Icinghorn, a Ford employee on temporary assignment from England who has worked on many teams in Europe.
Others offer a more moderate view. The biggest difference between the old team concept is in "the nuances, the fine-tuning," says Dick Huber, group director of human resources for the Powertrain Group atCorp.
"The 'how' and the 'what' of platform teams are well defined," explains Shamel T. Rushwin, vice president of International Manufacturing and Minivan Assembly Operations at Chrysler. "The 'what' is defined by senior management. The 'how' is defined by the teams. But sometimes the boundaries get blurred."
Lack of liaison between home-organization and team bosses can mean that team members risk getting stiffed in deeply private and personal domains relating to their career goals. "I know it's a major problem because (team members) are out of the loop." says Thomas Naughton, an associate professor in the Wayne State University School of Business Administration. "Somebody has to be concerned about the career lines of these people."
Prof. Naughton, an auto-industry specialist, holds engineering-management courses for Ford engineers. "What I've heard," he adds, "is the companies are aware of the problem and are trying to figure out what to do."
Some Ford team members have experienced similar personal and personnel problems, but the company "never came to terms" with them, says Fred Simon, who retired after serving as program manager on the 1995 Lincolnteam.
The "people" problems now surfacing among team players vary in type and degree, depending on the individual automaker. "Teamwork has to be viewed as a mindset rather than organization," explains Howard Stanton, an assistant chief engineer at GM Powertrain who worked on the team that developed GM's much-acclaimed Northstar V-8 multivalve engine.
Team spirit takes about a year to build, based on the experience of Ford Engineer Wendy Daniel, who worked on Mr. Teamwork Simon'steam. But when the spirit peaks, team players think they can move mountains. "This is YOUR vehicle," Ms. Daniels says. "The leadership can make you feel like such an important part of it that you begin to believe it."
"Successful teams will do anything for a good leader," says O. John Coletti, planning manager for the '94 Mustang team and now manager of Special Vehicle Engineering at Ford. Mr. Coletti was a major player in a small "skunk works" team that convinced Ford management to save the Mustang from extinction.
Team members say they soon regard their co-workers not as chassis engineers, interior stylists, powertrain specialists, bean-counters or manufacturing mavens, but as friends who they trust and can depend on -- like a family.
Participating on a team often means arriving at work early and staying late, committed to doing whatever it takes to get the job done. "A group of us would come in on weekends and work regularly," says Ms. Daniel, "because it wasn't so much like work when you're working with people that you really like."
Sweating three or four years on a Chrysler Minivan or Ford-taurus/mercury Sable team with elite, highly motivated colleagues can be the most fulfilling experience of many team members' lives, they say. But is there life after a platform team? The tie to the team can be so umbilical that members have been known to pass up promotions to stay connected.
When teams break up, morale often slumps. "It's like losing all your friends," Mr. Simon says. "It's not the thing you're working on" that counts for team members, "it's the people you're working with," he maintains.
Consequently, many members don't relish turning to their permanent chimneys. "You've got this well-oiled machine," observes Mr. Coletti, "and what're you going to do with it now? Once you've created this tremendous spirit, it needs to be handled very gently."
The pain is even worse for those who go back to the chimney and learn that they missed out on pay raises and promotions won by those who stayed put.
Some returnees regretfully conclude that their exciting, short-term team experience has been at the expense of their long-term careers. Demoralized senior ex-team members may opt for early retirement. Their junior colleagues hang on within the chimney while circulating their resumes.
"My part of the team did not have that problem," says a former Ford team member, "but other parts did. A friend of mine really struggled with it to the point where he quit the company."
When Chrysler's teams initially debuted, the personnel department often failed to reward outstanding contributors in a timely fashion. "You could have an award-winning year and not get an increase (in salary) for 18 to 24 months," recalls Thomas Edson, program management executive on the minivan platform engineering team. "It didn't help reinforce the behavior that had merited the increase." Today, Chrysler mandates year-end appraisals of team members and appropriate raises every April 1.
When teams began to form at Ford, says Mr. Coletti, leaders frequently faced unanticipated yet vital housekeeping tasks such as "the day-to-day stuff that, back in your core organization, you take for granted." These chores ranged from arranging how to get office supplies to establishing systems for reporting overtime.
Also, many team leaders found it necessary to set up operating "policies and practices" uniquely designed to work for their specific teams. Often included in these, he says, would be a general understanding of the protocol regarding relations between team members and their supervisors.
Some team members, for example, may come from core organizations where people think nothing of wandering unannounced into a supervisor's office, parking on the corner of his desk and arguing a point. Others come from situations where such breezy informality goes over like sand in transmission fluid. So some team leaders -- either formally or informally -- found it helpful to circulate guides to conduct in this area. "It does take some homogenizing to create a fair working environment," Mr. Coletti observes.
"A lot of folks think you just put a bunch of people in a room and you have team," observes Prof. Stanton.
Chrysler's move to teams initially stirred up a rash of ego problems. "When we started out," Mr. Rushwin recalls, "everyone was still functionally oriented, everyone was still focused on that "chimney." The demands of team play "exposed the lack of flexibility" of many team members, he says. Today's teams thrive on members who have "strong chemistry cross-functionally" and are able to "concede some battles in order to win wars together," he adds.
Chrysler employees resistant to team play found themselves candidates for the company's behavior-modification classes. "Those that didn't adapt left," explains Mr. Rushwin.
Psychologists use screening to bounce the egotists and unreconstructed individualists before they can get a foot in the team door. The goal is to sift for individuals who promote group harmony and consensus. Successful candidates then get blitzed with team-think seminars stressing interdependence versus independence.
A typical team takes about a year to shake down. Members then start thinking of themselves as powerful little auto companies in microcosm.
Nowhere is that closer to reality than at Chrysler where, because the chimneys reportedly have been dynamited, the two-boss syndrome doesn't surface. "We're a little bit more agile and flexible than the other guys," says Mr. Rushwin, who was once an assembly line worker at GM's Lordstown, OH, plant. "We have transitioned to a company that puts more emphasis on creativity than it does on capital."
Ford and GM, however, dovetail teams with chimneys. This means that team chimney turf clashes can't always be avoided -- with the possiblity of individual team players getting spiked in the middle.
A mid-level Ford engineer recalls that in working on the '95 Continental team, "it wasn't total empowerment by any means; the home office still wanted some control over what you did." The project "seemed to be the bastard child of Ford Motor Co. at the time," he continues. "We didn't have a lot of resources. We didn't have a lot of respect. We didn't have a lot of visibility. Everybody on the team knew that."
He recalls his team boss and core boss wanting to "pull me in two separate directions." He feels that his boss didn't fully appreciate what he had done for the team and that his core organization didn't support the team. "If you asked them for the results of a test, say, or a drawing," he recalls, "the typical response was: 'Tell program management to screw off; it's not our job.'"
The engineer, who still regards Ford as a "tremendous" company, quit after the team disbanded because, he claims, he and his core boss disagreed on the path his future career should take.
Chrysler planners anticipated the problem of emotional let-down when teams break up. To minimize it, says Mr. Gardner, "we deliberately and intentionally did a good planning job to move guys into the team on a regular, rotational basis, then back to their chimney organization."
When Chrysler's LH teams disbanded, many members transferred to the JA (compact-car) team to develop the '95 replacement for Spirit and Acclaim. And over the past three years, Chrysler has rotated roughly 20% of its engineers across five vehicle platforms.
Ford and GM executives also realize the potential for an emotional let-down when teams break up. Consequently, keeping teams together where possible is an important cornerstone in their team philosophies.
Also, both companies are under considerable pressure to find innovative ways for tracking and evaluating job performance of team members, compensating them more fairly, promoting them appropriately and insuring that long-term careers don't simmer unnoticed on the back burner.
But Mr. Simon is not optimistic about these attempts at Ford. Whichever way you go as a team member, he says, "you're away from the guy (in the chimney) who's going to control your career. I haven't seen a good solution to this problem"
Although Chrysler reports success with team rotation, Mr. Simon maintains that at I such practices generated an unexpected problem of its own. "Our HR human resources) people could never come to terms with, 'How am I going to promote somebody if he's doing the same job as he it was doing before on a different product in the same team?" he says. "Well, you HAVE to find a way to reward people. Everybody doesn't HAVE to be promoted. If they're really getting satisfaction out of what they're doing, you can give them some monetary reward. Maybe it's a bonus at the completion of the program rather than a raise or a grade change. And I'll bet you'll get more satisfied people."
Management strategists at GM and Ford chose to marry teams to the traditional organizational structure. "I don't think very many people (in Ford) oppose moving away from the chimneys," Mr. Simon says. "I think there are people who want to move to teams in a very structured way, and the risk is you can create new chimneys."
"We're not like Chrysler," Gm's Mr. Huber points out. "We're more like Ford or. We have designed a (team) system we think is unique to General Motors and will work with our culture."
The Chrysler team-management approach began to take shape with the birth of car and truck platform programs in the late 1980s. Cross-functional teams for each vehicle were organized across all facets of company and supplier operations in bringing out new products. "I am a firm believer that teams are the way to improve," says Francois Castaing, vice president for vehicle engineering and a prime mover behind Chrysler's platform-team structure.
One way to minimize team discontent is through tighter screening. Teams are not for everybody, as Chrysler learned after it began forming them in a catch-as-catchcan style in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Chrysler personnel specialists have learned how to hunt for the potential to hype group-think and red-flag candidates who betray the quarterbacking/grandstanding characteristics prized in chimney structures.
Program management by team at Ford dates to the early 1980s, when development began on the first Taurus/sable. As part of its Ford 2000 project, the company will assign teams to five separate centers into which future vehicle development is being reorganized. From the current 24 different platforms, Ford will downsize to 16, causing a major reshuffling of teams.
Teamwork at GM originated more than a decade ago in several parts of the corporation, but gets formalized in the product development side with formation of the new VLE and brand-manager structure GM is adopting.
Elements of what GM calls its "Strong Single Point Management Program" (SSPMP) team approach are spreading throughout the corporation including the VLES. SSPMP evolved from the group structures that delivered such products as the Northstar engine, Saturn and the 1995 Cavalier and Sunbird.
GM futurists stress the crucial importance of team continuity. For this reason, the new VLES may hold the same job for 10 to 12 years like they do atMotor Corp. "Our thrust has been to make sure these people work together," says Mr. Huber. "(They) might not stay that long. But we require them to stay one full cycle (around six years), so there's some real continuity and dedication."
Personnel experts at GM designed the SSPMPS so that members do not fall behind in terms of salary increases, promotions and long-term career plans. Addressing the issue of team bosses and chimney bosses failing to keep in touch on personnel matters, he adds: "We've also pretty carefully laid out who's responsible for what."
GM's team-screening process takes about two weeks. It includes a review of a candidate's job history and professional skills and qualifications. Next comes an indepth interview and paper-and-pencil tests designed to reveal how the candidate is wired emotionally and behaviorally. Surviving candidates go through a team simulation exercise in which their responses and reactions are graded.
Selected team leaders and members sit through a week-long seminar together. Team leaders spend a second week in seminars. In a third week of seminars, VLES meet with their marketing counterparts on the team to make sure that they are all reading from the same page. Finally, the fully assembled teams do a dry run in a launch training exercise.
"We're probably engaged in the most massive education and training process that we've ever done in this realm in vehicle development," Mr. Huber says. Chrysler, by contrast, went to dedicated teams almost informally. "We never announced Chrysler 2000," says Mr. Castaing. "We created, more by our own behavior, the sense that we would be better off as a company to get people to work together for a customer rather than working for their chimney, their boss. We never imposed the team culture; we kind of planted the seed and improved it."
Still, Chrysler planners had some reservations. They feared that team leaders in time of crisis might -- as a conditioned reflex -- fall back on their former chimneys for help. So in the early 90s they began assigning godfathers" to their teams. These are executives who ensure team solidarity by settling issues above the power of individual team members to resolve on their own.
As part of its efforts to fine-tune team selection, Chrysler in 1994 introduced a 12-category "behavior" questionnaire. It grades for such characteristics as risk-taking, problem-solving, leadership and candor. When it comes time to hand out raises and promotions, team members are graded 50% on "behavior" and 50% on job performance. The rating system is now in its second year.
"You are appraised by your peers more so than by your boss," Mr. Castaing says. The old system, he explains, "used to really reward what we call the Type 4 people -- those "who achieve enormous results at the cost of beating up people."
Chrysler's upgraded team-screen calibrates for Type 3 employees -- those with excellent behavioral skills and high levels of professional accomplishment. "That's the one we cherish at Chrysler," Mr. Castaing says. No type 4s need apply.