Thus far, we have 23 natural workgroups that embarked on the engagement process. These groups (which include custodians, window washers and recycling crew members) develop their own goals, metrics and their own mission statements (in some cases).

Teams track their progress — from the advent of a new idea to improve the work, all the way to its actual implementation. Each workgroup has the opportunity to work together to achieve their goals and identify challenges that prevent them from doing their best work.

Ideally, the workgroups meet daily (or a minimum of three times a week) in what we call a huddle. These huddles offer a safe and nonjudgmental environment for each member to share ideas and solve problems while they discuss their visual board, which essentially displays their ideas and progress. There is no finger-pointing, and all ideas are worthy of consideration. Ultimately, the team determines the priorities and which ideas benefit their work process.

This is where leaders provide support, guidance and encouragement. For example, if a potential solution or idea is out of a team’s control, leaders can provide assistance.

In the early stages, it’s all about establishing a team dynamic and how to develop the most efficient solutions to a problem. It’s also important for everyone to consider this a learning experience where it’s actually a positive thing to make mistakes while trying new things. That’s how we learn.

I strive to be someone that is always looking to learn and expand my knowledge so that I’m able to lead my team and organization effectively. It has been a rewarding (and occasionally frustrating) journey leading a large organization with many moving pieces. But we are now creating the kind of work environment that encourages employees to be their very best thorough a collaborative and meaningful work-life. We are installing a system that gives everyone an opportunity to know they are a valuable member of the team — not just when something special happens, but day after day.

Our department is seeing people shine in ways that we would not have thought possible. Since we started this program a little over three years ago, our team members have generated 1,399 ideas (768 of which have been implemented).

Every day, we are celebrating team accomplishments, best ideas and the accomplishments of team goals. Professional relationships have strengthened and there is an increase in meaningful communication about what we are trying to accomplish. This is only the beginning; I look forward to seeing what’s to come.   

GENE WOODARD, R.E.H., is director of building services at University of Washington. He is also a founding member of Healthy Schools Campaign’s National Green Cleaning Schools Leadership Council and serves on the advisory board for Facility Cleaning Decisions.

previous page of this article:
Leadership Techniques That Encourage Cleaning Workers