It's about teamwork

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Patrice Griffiths
Patrice Griffiths

By Patrice Griffiths, Residential Services Supervisor, The Wartburg Adult Care Community

The kitchen and dining room service at Meadowview Assisted Living suffered from communication breakdowns. Disagreements between team members were affecting service for more than 100 residents who relied on the dining service for three meals a day.  

In order to provide exemplary service that our residents deserve, the dining services staff needed to begin thinking and acting like a team. In the time and accuracy-driven environment of a dining service, each member experienced stress, and reaction to this stress was causing on-the-job conflicts.

Instead of pointing fingers at coworkers' shortcomings, they needed to begin understanding the difficulty of each job. So I talked with David Viertel, director of fine dining and executive chef, and I talked about the challenging environment.  We also spoke with members of the group to identify the root cause of the problem.

We found that a major problem was a lack of understanding of the complexities of the other person's job. This came up repeatedly.

Exercises

In order to establish better two-way communications between dining room and kitchen staff, I embarked upon a six-month course of team building, alternating between group discussions and activities. I conducted a series of one-hour team-building exercises as part of the six-month program. We discussed our chain of command, culture and respect.  

We had a kick-off celebration in August, a campus-wide scavenger hunt pairing up team members in September, a volleyball game and role reversal activity in October and a culminating “cook-off” with teams of four people. We held an awards ceremony on Dec. 3, 2009.

On role-reversal day, staffers actually performed the duties of their colleagues. Dining room staff had to prepare food, and kitchen staff had to serve in the dining room. At the end of the exercise, the staff met for a moderated discussion about what they learned.  

Obstacles

As with all team-building exercises, there were people who were receptive, others who were apprehensive and some who were indifferent. David and I wanted to make everyone comfortable with the planned activities to ensure each member would get the most out of the exercise.

In addition, in a busy place like an assisted living residence, finding an hour to gather staff for a training exercise was challenging, but necessary.  

Team members took the idea of role swapping seriously, and people were concerned about who was going to take on their role. How were the swappers going to accomplish someone else's daily tasks that had taken the real jobholder time to master?

The participants had to interact with one another, even if that was not their daily style.  By being out of their regular element, team members had to ask each other questions.

Outcomes

At the end of the swap period, the group reconvened, and I led a discussion about their experiences.  Overwhelmingly, the team gained a little more respect for each other's daily contributions.

The result was a sustained effort at showing patience, tolerance and more teamwork than before. David has incorporated ongoing training activities for team building into our regular in-service program because of the success with role swapping.

Meadowview's administrator, Janet Palazzolo, liked the idea so much that she implemented a “trading places day” for the residence's managers. It is my hope that having walked in one another's shoes can have a long-term impact on team effort, and in an emergency allow us to have experienced temporary help on hand, even if only in a pinch.

For the first time in the Meadowview's nine-year history, the kitchen/dining staff planned their own holiday celebration for their group because they were experiencing camaraderie for the first time.Recommendations

I think that using the whole package of team building exercises was necessary to successfully implement role swapping because it created an interpersonal comfort level between the members of the team that did not previously exist.

For trainers and managers looking to coordinate team building through role swapping, I suggest that you permit the team to make its own decisions (within reason) and permit people to make errors.  Most of all, you should encourage them to have fun with the experiment. Enjoyment makes things memorable.