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Participative work design in lean production: A strategy for dissolving the paradox between standardized work and team proactivity by stimulating team learning?

Annika Lantz (Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden)
Niklas Hansen (Department of Research and Development, Pearson Assessment, Bromma, Sweden)
Conny Antoni (Department of Psychology, University of Trier, Trier, Germany.)

Journal of Workplace Learning

ISSN: 1366-5626

Article publication date: 12 January 2015




The purpose of this paper is to explore job design mechanisms that enhance team proactivity within a lean production system where autonomy is uttermost restricted. We propose and test a model where the team learning process of building shared meaning of work mediates the relationship between team participative decision-making, inter team relations and team proactive behaviour.


The results are based on questionnaires to 417 employees within manufacturing industry (response rate 86 per cent) and managers’ ratings of team proactivity. The research model was tested by mediation analysis on aggregated data (56 teams).


Team learning mediates the relationship between participative decision-making and inter team collaboration on team proactive behaviour. Input from stakeholders in the work flow and partaking in decisions about work, rather than autonomy in carrying out the work, enhance the teams’ proactivity through learning processes.

Research limitations/implications

An investigation of the effects of different leadership styles and management policy on proactivity through team-learning processes might shed light on how leadership promotes proactivity, as results support the effects of team participative decision-making – reflecting management policy – on proactivity.

Practical implications

Lean production stresses continuous improvements for enhancing efficiency, and such processes rely on individuals and teams that are proactive. Participation in forming the standardization of work is linked to managerial style, which can be changed and developed also within a lean concept. Based on our experiences of implementing the results in the production plant, we discuss what it takes to create and manage participative processes and close collaboration between teams on the shop floor, and other stakeholders such as production support, based on a shared understanding of the work and work processes.

Social implications

Learning at the workplace is essential for long-term employability, and for job satisfaction and health. The lean concept is widely spread to both public bodies and enterprises, and it has been shown that it can be linked to increased stress and an increase in workload. Finding the potential for learning within lean production is essential for balancing the need of efficient production and employees’ health and well-being at work.


Very few studies have investigated the paradox between lean and teamwork, yet many lean-inspired productions systems have teamwork as a pillar for enhancing effectiveness. A clear distinction between autonomy and participation contributes to the understanding of the links between job design, learning processes and team proactivity.



The authors thank Dirk Zimmermann for his help with the statistical analyses.


Lantz, A., Hansen, N. and Antoni, C. (2015), "Participative work design in lean production: A strategy for dissolving the paradox between standardized work and team proactivity by stimulating team learning?", Journal of Workplace Learning, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 19-33.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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