The University Record, February 27, 1996

MSRB III custodial staff reap benefits of teamwork

By Jared Blank

 The enthusiasm radiating from the eight members of the Medical Science Research Building III (MSRB III) Self-Directed Work Team is a strong contrast, they say, to the punch-clock, fend-for-yourself mentality of the past.

"When I come to work, I come to do my best---to motivate people, to motivate myself," says custodian Emanuel Tillison. "When I'm down, I know the other members of the team will pick me up, and I'll pick them up when they need it."

This team is the first fully functional custodial team to be assigned an entire building. The emphasis on this team approach to custodial duties at MSRB III began two years ago as a means to increase efficiency and camaraderie, allow for greater scheduling flexibility for the custodial staff, and to test the usefulness of M-Quality principles. Members of the team now have far greater control over how they work than under the former supervisor-controlled system.

"In the past, the supervisor would write out our schedule and you followed it---what time you did each task, what tasks you would do," custodian Linda Solari explains. "If something went wrong, I really didn't feel comfortable asking a supervisor for help---there wasn't the open-door policy that we have now.

"Now, we meet as a team to decide who will do the tasks that need to be done and when we will do them. We all have learned to do each other's work, so when one of us is out, somebody else can take over the work," she says.

The positive effects of the increased flexibility are far-reaching. Many members of the team point to the high level of customer satisfaction in the building as a measure of the team's success. In fact, each member has received a Silver Arrow Award---awards given by Plant Department customers to staff who have done an exemplary job.

"Because various occupants have different work schedules, we can change our schedule to better accommodate them," says custodian Renaldo Davis. "Since we don't have to ask a supervisor for permission to change our schedule, we can work directly with our customers to provide better service."

"We are able to satisfy the customer's needs so much better working with the team," Karen LeCarpentier says. "Our customers are much more willing to come to us directly because they know we'll respond. It's nice to hear them compliment us. We take so much pride in our work because we always have people coming up to us and saying how well we're doing. In turn, we always want to do more."

Supervisor Darryl Betts, affectionately called "coach" by the team members, stresses the potential for personal growth. "I try to act as a mediator when problems come up," he says. "I think it's important for them to work problems out themselves, to learn to work with different personalities. This is a big change in the role of supervisor."

Personal growth has been a significant benefit for Tillison. He has applied concepts from "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" training sessions to his work and his home life. "I used to be a disagreer, a strong, opinionated person," he says. "I looked at work from a worker-management point of view. I always had in mind that I had to be in charge. The team's patience grew thin with me---I was on the edge of departing and they were on the verge of kicking me out. I was encouraged to take the "Seven Habits" class and I changed. I learned patience. I learned to first seek to understand others, then to be understood. I learned to strive for win/win situations. Now, I try to go out every day and do my best."

Nathan Norman, manager of plant building services, says that personal growth is necessary to the success of a team. Team members need to adapt to other people's styles, he says. "A successful team requires the right mental attitude and training. On any team you're confronted with different personalities and you have to learn to work with these people.

"When you've learned to admit your weaknesses, then you've matured," he adds.

With the flexibility in scheduling, team members are encouraged to take classes offered through Plant Building Services. MSRB III team members have taken GED, math, English, and computer classes, as well as one on dealing with difficult people.

Bernadette Waters, the staff development associate who has worked with the team on the implementation of M-Quality principles, likens the personality boundary-breaking process to that of a marriage. "You go through a storming stage---you don't want to upset each other, but you have to air out the problems. The personalities are different, but we've all learned to work through that. When I talk about successful self-directed work teams, I always mention this one."

"We've been through our ups and downs," says team member Wanda Peles, "but we don't hold a grudge. We might have a hot meeting, but we talk out our conflict and we do our job."

Custodians Denise Warford, David Oldenburg and Donna Hudgins comprise the rest of the team.

The group will hold an open house 2­4 p.m. Fri. (March 1) in the 2nd level commons area, MSRB III.