BOX 4.1 Blurring of Occupational Boundaries in the Steel, Apparel, and Electronics Components Industries (Appelbaum and Berg, 1999)
In many of the plants in the three industries in our sample, workers are expected to engage in problem solving whether or not there are self-directed teams. . . . Front line workers have increased responsibility for coordinating production activities, and offline teams are widespread. Nevertheless, the survey results indicate that self-directed teams have responsibilities that go beyond this, and that there are significant distinctions between these responsibilities and those of other workers. . . . [M]uch of the information in these plants is collected and remains at the bottom levels, where it is acted on directly by workers who call on subject matter experts, confer with workers and managers outside their work groups, and make decisions that affect product quality, maintenance of production equipment, and adherence to production schedules. . . .
In tandem with the reductions in the number of supervisors and with greater reliance on front line workers in many of the plants in our sample, there has been a major change . . . in the supervisors' role. Supervisors are expected to coordinate with purchasing or with earlier stages of the production process about the quality and availability of incoming materials as well as with internal and external customers downstream from them. As we have seen, they participate extensively in offline teams that deal with product quality, cost reduction, equipment purchases or modification, working conditions, or training; and they usually have responsibility for facilitating these meeting. They are also called on to resolve differences of opinion among blue-collar workers and to provide structured on-the-job training for workers, who now require greater skills. Where self-directed teams have been introduced, either formally or de facto, supervisors spend very little time "watching other people work."