quality-circle

Quality Circle In A Nutshell

A quality circle is a team of employees who come together regularly to identify and solve problems specific to their work area.

Understanding quality circles

The quality circle is a participatory management technique where employees meet in teams to identify, discuss, and solve work-related problems.

These teams, which consist of no more than twelve individuals, are normally led by a supervisor or manager and seek to facilitate better standards in the workplace. 

Employees who participate in quality circles are sometimes trained in formal problem-solving methods such as the Pareto analysis, cause-and-effect diagrams, and various brainstorming techniques.

After completing any one of these analyses, individuals are encouraged to discuss their conclusions with superiors who have the power to implement solutions.

Quality circles are not a new concept in business, with a study commissioned by the New York Stock Exchange finding that 44% of companies with more than 500 employees were using them as early as 1982.

While hard data are harder to come by today, Harvard Business Review believes that at least 90 of the top Fortune 500 companies have a quality circle program in place.

Some companies, such as IBM, Xerox, and Honeywell, use them extensively.

Objectives of quality circles

It may appear on the surface that the only objective of a quality circle is to solve workplace problems. In truth, however, there are numerous benefits for employees and the organization as a whole:

  • Teamwork – quality circles enable employees to hone important collaboration skills and solve critical problems by working together. 
  • Personal development – in a similar vein, individuals within the team develop better communication, critical thinking, and leadership skills. The perspectives, knowledge, and experience of one person are also enhanced by those shared by another.
  • Attitude – quality circles allow employees to feel like their opinions or contributions are valued by the organization. An attitude of continuous improvement increases employee motivation and the efficiency of processes and procedures.

Structure of a quality circle

The structure of a quality circle is somewhat flexible, but in many cases is comprised of the following stakeholders:

  • Members – the employees who participate in the process, undertake formal training, and present solutions to management.
  • Non-members – those employees who choose not to participate in the quality circle but have important ideas to put forward.
  • Leaders – a member-elected individual who ensures meetings run smoothly and serve the desired purpose. Some quality circles may also appoint a deputy leader.
  • Coordinator – these individuals establish quality circles, train leaders and members, and report information back to the steering committee.
  • Steering committee – individuals within upper management who ensure meetings remain on track and act on employee recommendations.
  • Coordinating agency – an agency that manages the budget, organizes employee training, and ensures quality circles are incorporated into business operations.

Key takeaways:

  • A quality circle is a team of employees who come together regularly to identify and solve problems specific to their work area.
  • It may appear that the only objective of a quality circle is to solve workplace problems, but they also serve to increase employee skills, motivation, and productivity.
  • Various stakeholders participate in the quality circle process. These include members, non-members, leaders, coordinators, steering committees, and a coordinating agency.
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