The paper attempts to make generalisations about high performance work systems drawing on a study of the implementation of team working and the replacement of traditional supervisors with team leaders in a company manufacturing and assembling bicycles. It is argued that the company followed what is believed to be a not uncommon pattern whereby employment practices follow a cyclical pattern of introducing innovations which go beyond standard or traditional ways of managing the human resource aspects of the organisation before reverting to those basic patterns as the tensions between the characteristics of the innovations and other pressures in and around the organisation manifest themselves. It can be argued that the key aspiration of the various attempts which are made to organise employment for ‘high performance’ is one of breaking out of this cycle. To utilise the metaphor of management as cycling, it could be argued that the hope of the management of Phoenix was that, instead of continuously riding their bicycle uphill and then downhill — so that no greater overall height above sea level is achieved — a breakthrough would occur whereby the rider shifts gear, makes a special effort, gets out of the foothills and thencefor‐ward rides along across a higher plateau. The company would thus now be performing at a higher level than its competitors or is, at least, be travelling on a similar plain to them so that it can stay in the race, as opposed to being left behind — possibly to die — in the foothills.
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