A quality circle consists of a small group of employees, led by a supervisor, who attempt to identify a solution to a work-related problem. If the group identifies a solution, the supervisor presents the group's findings to upper management for review and possible implementation. Although the intent of the quality circle is to inspire teamwork, improve organizational communication, promote process ownership, reduce costs and eliminate resistance to change, the process is not always advantageous.
Quality Circle Team Members
Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, the originator of quality circles, believed that a quality circle should consist of the employees of a particular work center and their supervisor. Ishikawa emphasized the importance of the membership of the quality circle being identical to that of the work center to facilitate the identification and implementation of solutions to issues by those most familiar with the work processes in question. However, a supervisor and team members may not work well together in their normal work environment. As a result, it is likely the group will lack the cooperation that is necessary to voluntarily resolve issues addressed by the quality circle.
Quality Circle Training
Ishikawa emphasized the importance of training quality circle participants in problem solving and failure analysis, and providing QC participants the appropriate quality assurance tools to solve problems. In actuality, employees may not receive formal problem-solving training, such as the conduct of brainstorming sessions or technical training appropriate to the problem at hand. In addition, personnel may not understand how to use available quality assurance data or correctly implement quality assurance processes. As a result, quality circle results may not always meet expectations.
Voluntary Participation in Quality Circles
Participating in quality circles and attempting to identify solutions to work-related problems are voluntary as is the implementation of quality-circle solutions by upper management. Therefore, if the small business' culture and leadership does not support the QC process, it rarely gains the commitment of work-group members. Lacking the participation of key team members who possess a specific expertise, a quality circle may propose solutions that are not practical or not implemented successfully.
Management may not enforce quality as a key element of the corporate culture by providing practical support or encouragement to participants. Leaders may fail to make quality circle training available to employees or refrain from personal involvement in the company's quality circles or review. For example, company leadership may not require that QC team leaders present findings in a standardized reporting format to upper management. In turn, upper management may not review the QC findings or monitor the implementation of recommended corrective actions.
Quality Issue Selection
In some cases, members of quality circles address issues for which they do not possess the necessary skills to address. However, management may not be aware that resolving a problem will require a consultant with a special expertise. As a result, the team may waste valuable time as it continues to rely on the skills of the QC group to solve problem. In this case, the quality circle meetings can degenerate to complaint sessions regarding existing conditions.
- Harvard Business Review: Quality Circles After the Fad
- Inc.: Quality Circles
- Quality Management for the Technology Sector; Joe Berk et al.
Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.