Rhetoric and the Politics of Workplace Innovation
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Rhetoric and the Politics of Workplace Innovation

Struggling with Empowerment and Modernization

Martin Beirne

This book provides a critical insight into the ongoing debates and controversies that surround employee empowerment and workplace innovation. It highlights competing interests and conflicting values, and illuminates some basic tensions between confident rhetoric and everyday realities.
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Chapter 2: Progressive teamworking: disputes, promise and practicalities

Struggling with Empowerment and Modernization

Martin Beirne


Teamworking initiatives have been associated with employee empower- ment for a large number of years, especially in operational matters where groups of people acquire formal responsibility for specific aspects of production or the delivery of particular services. The durable appeal of the topic conceals a number of distinct themes and possibilities, however, from collective monitoring of workflow, quality and health and safety issues to multi-skilling, work restructuring and the reversal of hierarchy. Contrasting perspectives and varieties of interest are distinguished by the broad range of labels that are commonly prefixed to the term, including self-managing, self-directing, high-performance, autonomous and semi- autonomous, on-line and off-line teams. Many of the contemporary conceptualizations of progressive or alter- native teams have a lineage that dates back to the middle decades of the twentieth century (Benders et al., 2006). Their roots can be traced to the pioneering work of consultants associated with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London (Trist and Murray, 1993) and the Quality of Working Life movement, an international network connecting innovators in the Scandinavian countries, Britain, Australia, the United States and elsewhere (Davis and Taylor, 1972; Emery and Thorsrud, 1976; Mumford and Cooper, 1979). Offended by the restrictions on work under Taylorist and Fordist regimes, this community presented a moral and social vision of autonomous groups operating with a degree of freedom from manage- ment directives, and with the discretion and variety that could deliver a meaningful, enriching and productive experience.

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