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Cross-National Appropriation of Work Systems

Japanese Firms in the UK

Ayse Saka

The diffusion of work processes across countries through foreign direct investment and technological collaborations is an increasingly important practice in today’s global economy. Ayse Saka explores this process both by focusing on the role of actors in appropriating different ways of operating and by examining the effects of the institutional environment in the host country.
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Chapter 4: Appropriation of Japanese Work Systems in the UK: Illustrations from the Automotive Industry

Ayse Saka


Teniki UK, Nissera UK and Rover faced similar environmental pressures to be innovative and competitive. They aimed to enhance manufacturing skills and the quality and productivity of their output by adopting lean manufacturing systems and continuous improvement. However, conscious efforts to institutionalize meanings, values and norms at these sites were not very effective in changing organizational behaviour. Although the major practices diffused were similar in all three companies, the degree to which they were infused with value and accepted in each site differed. The degree of implementation and internalization of work systems was significantly higher at Nissera UK and the Rover–Honda collaboration than at Teniki UK. 1. NATURE OF DIFFUSED WORK SYSTEMS Organizational Structure: the Shift to Team Structure There was a shift in work organization at all three sites towards a flatter team structure. The pattern of authority relations at the two subsidiaries was changed from one based on superintendents, supervisors and hourly paid workers to one built around team leaders, team coaches and hourly paid workers arranged in a production cell layout rather than assembly lines. At Teniki UK, the transition to a team structure was based on the objectives of reducing costs and supervisor autonomy and breaking ‘them and us’ clusters in the company. We had less number of supervisors, hence it was a cost-saving measure in that way. We had a lot who did not understand the difference between a team coach and a supervisor. With the new structure,...

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