What is a quality circle? Definition and examples
A quality circle is a group of company employees who regularly meet to determine how to resolve problems. It aims to improve how part of the company operates, such as the production process. Members are employees who do similar or the same work. They meet periodically to identify, examine, analyze, and solve problems in the company or workplace.
A quality circle is typically autonomous and small. In most cases, a senior worker or supervisor heads it.
Most members have received training in problem-solving methods. Pareto analysis, cause-and-effect diagrams, and brain-storming, for example, are problem-solving methods.
The quality circle presents its findings to management, which subsequently approves or turns down solution proposals. The circle then implements the ones that management has approved.
“A quality circle is a participatory management technique that enlists the help of employees in solving problems related to their own jobs.”
“Circles are formed of employees working together in an operation who meet at intervals to discuss problems of quality and to devise solutions for improvements.”
Quality circle – Japan
Nippon Wireless and Telegraph Company introduced quality circles in 1962. It was the first company to do so.
By 1978, Japan had approximately one-million circles involving about ten million workers.
JUSE (Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers) coordinated the quality circle movement in Japan.
Today, circles operate in most East Asian countries. According to Wikipedia, China has over 20 million quality circles.
Quality circle adoption in the US
Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technologies company started using quality circles in 1974. They used them in their manufacturing facilities.
Lockheed Martin executives learned about them when they visited Japanese factories. They also saw how beneficial and useful they could be.
Not long after Lockheed Martin started using quality circles, other American companies, such as Westinghouse, Northrop, and GM, also added them to the workplace.
Many US companies did not properly understand what the function of a quality circle was and turned them into fault-finding exercises.