I like the Wikipedia definition of quality circle. Thus, quality circle or quality control circle is a group of workers who do the same or similar work, who meet regularly to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems. It consists of minimum three and maximum twelve members in number. Normally small in size, the group is usually led by a supervisor or manager and presents its solutions to management; where possible, workers implement the solutions themselves in order to improve the performance of the organization and motivate employees. Quality circles were at their most popular during the 1980s, but continue to exist in the form of Kaizen groups and similar worker participation schemes.

Employee Empowerment

From my experience as a quality and food safety professional, engagement of people which is one of the principles of quality management jumps at me anytime I think about managing quality in an organization. Majority of business owners become oblivious of the fact that, improvement comes from the people who toil day and night on the production floor. In many cases employers think they do employees a favour for giving them employment opportunities. Of course, these employees are the ones who do the ‘cooking’ so they have every right to enjoy portions of the ‘food’.

Quality cannot thrive under the watchful eyes of top management only. When business owners and heads of department retreat for strategic sessions, the businesses continue to run under the supervision of middle management and shopfloor supervisors. Quality is not the preserve of a few, it is a collective responsibility of every employee in the business. Encouraging quality circles in your business as an owner or Managing Director is one way of saying, my doors are always open for improvement ideas. Acting on improvement ideas from any department or grouping in the organisation is one way of saying, I appreciate your help.

Quality Circles

From the definition above, it is obvious that employees who come together to form a quality circle are not motivated by any extra salary but their interest lies in creating value for the business through improvement activities. This is true because quality circles are voluntary groupings of employees who are dedicated to seeing improvement in their organisations. Edwards Deming, one of the quality gurus who is credited with the beginnings of the quality movement in Japan together with Joseph Juran once said “Innovation comes from people who take joy in their work”.

A company that has quality in mind gives people the platform to become creative and innovative about their everyday work. Employee involvement in identifying problems and using problem solving tools to solve them can boost morale and give them a sense of ownership. Quality circles bring business owners to the most important action of encouraging active participation of all employees in driving productivity through deliberate identification of problems and promptly resolving them.

Motivation

It is always easy for business owners to boldly declare losses especially when they need employees to understand the reasons why they should not expect bonuses or salary increases. In that same spirit companies should make motivation a core value to appreciate employees involved in quality circles to ensure consistency of their work; especially when profit is declared. Motivation also comes from the willingness of management to implement solutions from quality circles. In some cases, the outcome of activities of quality circles will suggest a review of certain aspects of company culture. The resources needed for the various quality circles established must be provided on time and in full so as to keep the circles running without interruption.

How it works

Quality circles work on the principle that employee participation in decision-making and problem solving improves the quality of work. The objectives of setting up quality circles are numerous but the main objective as summarized above is to improve quality and productivity. Top management must initiate the process and ensure middle management and supervisors are involved. The first step is to organise a training session on quality circles and explain the concept to top management, middle management and supervisors. The second step is to organise a session for all employees. The idea is to train them on the concept of quality circles and their responsibilities in making the circles effective. At this training all inputs from employees to ensure success are considered in crafting a roadmap for the programme.

The third step is to establish a steering committee that will be responsible for the management of the entire programme. The steering committee should comprise of senior managers. Provide training for the steering committee and group facilitators to cover the following topics: Group dynamics, team building and facilitation, effective communication, conflict resolution and problem solving techniques.

Conclusion

There are several benefits an organisation could derive from the establishment of quality circles. This article has emphasised the overall benefit, being the improvement of quality and productivity. The final part of this article will enumerate the individual objectives of a working quality circle. It will also highlight the functions of the steering committee and facilitators and how they help create success for the business. As an organisation, setting up quality circles should be of top priority in order to accrue its benefits.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Founder & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com; johnson.opokuboateng@gmail.com