Quality circles were a second fad that built on the notion of behavioral control. Quality circles began in Japan in the 1960s and were first introduced in the United States in 1972. A quality circle is a formal group of employees that meets regularly to brainstorm solutions to organizational problems. As the name “quality circle” suggests, identifying behaviors that would improve the quality of products and the operations management processes that create the products was the formal charge of many quality circles.
While the quality circle fad depicted quality as the key driver of productivity, it quickly became apparent that this perspective was too narrow. Instead, quality is just one of four critical dimensions of the production process; speed, cost, and flexibility are also vital. Maximizing any one of these four dimensions often results in a product that simply cannot satisfy customers’ needs. Many products with perfect quality, for example, would be created too slowly and at too great a cost to compete in the market effectively. Thus trade-offs among quality, speed, cost, and flexibility are inevitable.
Improving clan control was the aim of sensitivity-training groups (or T-groups) that were used in many organizations in the 1960s. This fad involved gatherings of approximately eight to fifteen people openly discussing their emotions, feelings, beliefs, and biases about workplace issues. In stark contrast to the rigid nature of MBO, the T-group involved free-flowing conversations led by a facilitator. These discussions were thought to lead individuals to greater understanding of themselves and others. The anticipated results were more enlightened workers and a greater spirit of teamwork.
Research on social psychology has found that groups are often far crueler than individuals. Unfortunately, this meant that the candid nature of T-group discussions could easily degenerate into accusations and humiliation.