(1) A quality improvement or self-improvement study group composed of a small number of employees (10 or fewer) and their supervisor. Quality circles originated in Japan, where they are called quality control circles.
(2) Brainstorming sessions involving employees of a firm whose goal is improving processes and process capability.
A quality circle is a volunteer group composed of a group of employees usually under the leadership of their supervisor (but they can elect a team leader), who are trained to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management in order to improve the performance of the organization, and motivate and enrich the work of employees. When matured, true quality circles become self-managing, having gained the confidence of management.
Quality circles are an alternative to the dehumanizing concept of the division of labor, where workers or individuals are treated like robots. They bring back the concept of craftsmanship, which when operated on an individual basis is uneconomic but when used in group form can be devastatingly powerful. Quality circles enable the enrichment of the lives of the workers or students and creates harmony and high performance. Typical topics are improving occupational safety and health, improving product design, and improvement in the workplace and manufacturing processes.
The term quality circles derives from the concept of PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) circles developed by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. Quality circles are not normally paid a share of the cost benefit of any improvements but usually a proportion of the savings made is spent on improvements to the work environment.
They are formal groups. They meet at least once a week on company time and are trained by competent persons (usually designated as facilitators) who may be personnel and industrial relations specialists trained in human factors and the basic skills of problem identification, information gathering and analysis, basic statistics, and solution generation. Quality circles are generally free to select any topic they wish (other than those related to salary and terms and conditions of work, as there are other channels through which these issues are usually considered). Quality circles have the advantage of continuity; the circle remains intact from project to project.