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Developing and Rewarding Teams

Developing and Rewarding Teams

Located on a 946-acre island in the upper Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois, Rock Island Arsenal is the largest Government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the western world. Throughout the '80s and '90s, the Arsenal has made a concerted effort to demonstrate high commitment to quality and provide improved products and services to customers. Formal teaming efforts, along with the associated empowerment of employees, began with a quality circle program in 1981 and has evolved into self-directed work teams and cross-functional process action teams.

Use of Teams

The Arsenal's Labor-Management Council has been the primary driver for the establishment of self-directed work teams. Currently, the Arsenal has chartered 74 self-directed teams. Self-directed teams share the responsibility and authority to plan, implement, and control work processes. These teams are formally trained locally and personally chartered by the Commander. The Arsenal established self-directed teams in response to several National Performance Review directives. The resulting organizational structure is streamlined from six layers of management down to three across all offices.

The Arsenal also uses process action teams, which are informal groups of employees, generally across functional lines, that are formed to address specific improvement opportunities. These groups have improved a wide range of processes to include the contracting system, the welding capabilities, and the employee welfare system.

Development and Recognition

The development and recognition of employees serve as the springboard for all improvement initiatives. HEARTS, an acronym for Honesty, Ethics, Accountability, Respect, Trust, and Support, is a team-building and change management course designed to teach mutually dependent interactions. Teams learn how to interact by doing physical tasks (climbing poles, walking high-wires, scaling walls, etc.), which take employees outside their "comfort zone" and reinforce the value of teamwork. Over 1,500 employees have completed Phase I of the training.

To support its teams, the Arsenal has designed an awards program that effectively balances team and individual recognition, and takes advantage of the benefits of honorary as well as monetary awards. As a result, along with the traditional monetary awards normally available to Federal employees, the Arsenal's recognition program includes team, facilitator, and peer recognition. Employees and supervisors can make award nominations and several awards include direct presentations by the Commander. Especially noteworthy is the Commander's Quality Excellence Award, a quarterly award presented by the Commander to an individual or team for outstanding customer service or process improvement. Other awards include the Commendation for Environmental Achievement and the Commander's Award for Community Service.


Part of its employee involvement strategy includes creating an environment filled with open exchanges of information. The Arsenal's local area network contains numerous bulletin boards of interest to all employees. A number of newsletters keep employees informed of such things as new procedures or services, new improvement initiatives, and personal or team accomplishments. Town-hall meetings, closed circuit television broadcasts, and regular team meetings also are used.

Lessons Learned

The Arsenal has learned that improving quality and customer service does not happen overnight and that improvement takes time, education and experience, perseverance and dedication, and a willingness to take risks. It also takes the efforts of the entire workforce from top management to the line worker and a structured approach built on credibility and trust. Finally, people need to know the "why" before an improvement is started, they need to see the results when changes are made, and they need to celebrate the successes.

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