Team-based work systems are emerging as key source of sustained competitive advantage in manufacturing and engineering design operations. The focus on teams derives in no small part from the competitive success of Japanese corporations, where team-based systems have been central to manufacturing and engineering design for more than three decades. For years, Japanese operations were seen as dependent on what was perceived as the collective nature of Japanese culture, but these assumptions have been shattered by the success of Japanese firms in establishing manufacturing operations in North America. This article features a detailed look at team-based work systems in eight Japanese-affiliated factories located in North America. There are three distinct types of team systems in these factories: lean production teams, socio-technical system teams, and off-line team structures. The team systems vary in the degree of interdependency and autonomy among teams and in the amount of team-responsibility for daily production operations. These variations in team systems are attributable to the timing of Japanese investment, the nature of the production technology, and the influence of U.S. business partners. This research thus provides a roadmap to the diverse mix of Japanese work practices and identifies important lessons for any organization moving toward greater use of team-based work systems.
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