The changing role of the first-line supervisor has many implications for the design of the plant engineering organization. No one type of organizational structure is ideal for all situations; each depends to a large extent on the role of the first-line supervisor or the organization’s goal for what that role should become. Another primary factor influencing organization design is the relative maturity of the organization.

Plant Start-Ups
Plant start-ups are best managed by having the first-line supervisor function in the lead person role. In these situations, the technical expertise of the workers is low.

Supervisors should be selected, therefore, primarily for their technical abilities. Team training should be provided, however, to all workers and managers when possible to prepare them for an eventual transition into a team organization.

Some organizations have attempted start-ups with self-directed work teams, usually with disastrous results. A functional organization works best for start-ups.

As the start-up is completed and workers gain in technical skills, the leadperson becomes a one-on-one supervisor. Many organizations remain at this stage of development for the duration of their existence. Since greater participation of workers usually leads to improvements in productivity and quality, however, further organization development is recommended.

A one-on-one supervisor works best in a functional organization.
The subgroup supervisor usually functions in this role informally. As mentioned earlier, some organizations try to eliminate subgroups, usually without much success. Subgroups can exist in a functional organization and are typically the last stage of development before a formal transition into a team organization.

Transition to a Team Organization
Organizations that want to move from an authoritative to a participative type of management frequently do so by changing their structure from a functional type to a team organization. Unfortunately, calling a group a team does not make it so. As discussed, a real team exists because of the changing role of the first-line supervisor.

Calling a supervisor a team leader accomplishes nothing. Real teams can exist in a functional organization just as well as in a team organization.

Creating a Real Team Organization
Creating effective work teams requires a high level of commitment by the organization. Both workers and managers need extensive training in team skills, social skills, technical skills, and problem-solving skills. In addition, changes in attitudes are required for individuals to effectively work in the new environment. Finally, management must be prepared to provide workers with the tools they will need to eventually become true self-directed teams.

Plant engineering organizations are affected by the movement to pseudoteams in two ways. First, the plant engineering organization is affected itself, just like any other organization.

Second, since it is a service organization, plant engineering must function within the parameters set forth by the larger organization of which it is a part.

Plant Engineering in a Matrix Organization
Plant engineering organizations work best as part of a matrix organizational structure. The weaknesses of a product team organization eventually lead to major issues with effective maintenance.

This is due to two primary factors. First, maintenance must be managed by using tools not normally a part of the production-oriented manager’s toolbox. Second, a significant portion of the maintenance effort is more efficiently performed by a core team of specialists.

Examples are major repairs and overhauls, master preventive maintenance scheduling, planning and estimating of maintenance work, and operation of a computerized maintenance management system.

As organizations develop and mature, work teams become truly self-directed and supervisors are replaced by team resource persons. The key elements here are develop and mature.

This type of organization is not created by outside influences. It is created from within with support from the outside.

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