Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “team” as “a number of persons associated together in work or activity.” And according to Wikipedia, “teams are especially appropriate for conducting tasks that are high in complexity and have many interdependent subtasks.”  This fits cleaning to a T.

Cleaning teams are a blend of different personalities, abilities and skill sets that form a cohesive unit, which is willing to work for a common goal. And behind every successful team is a strong and visionary leader. In this case, that leader is Leorah Burton, environmental services manager at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Lebanon, Ore.

“We have been working on understanding worker personalities, forming a cohesive group and improving communication,” she says. “As a leader, you have to understand each persons strengths and weaknesses and how they can work together.”

How Does it Work?

Developing a cohesive team is just as important as the cleaning itself. In most team cleaning situations there are four workers that divvy up responsibilities. The first team member is a light-duty or trash specialist. This worker is first on the scene to dust, spot clean all surfaces and empty trash receptacles.

The second team member follows suit with a vacuum or mopping system, depending on the type of flooring. That individual will also double-check the area to make sure cleaning was done and trash was emptied.

A third team member focuses on restrooms — restocking soap, towel and paper dispensers, wiping mirrors, emptying trash and cleaning and disinfecting fixtures. Finally, the fourth team member will concentrate on larger cleaning tasks — buffing floors, vacuuming stairways or vertical surfaces and moving trash collections to the dumpsters.

Not all facilities, though, have the luxury of assigning four workers to a team. At Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, there are two people per team and those two are responsible for all the above tasks.

According to Burton, one team member will begin cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, while the other collects all trash (restrooms included) from the area. Once these tasks are completed, they move on to replenish stock and tend to the floors/carpeting.

“If something is missed by one person, the other has the opportunity to take care of it,” she says. “Team cleaning helps with efficiencies and productivity.”

Benefits of Team Cleaning

Specifically outlining responsibilities for each team member will often result in cleaning consistency, efficiencies and improved safety.

“The main reason we originally decided to clean in teams was for personal safety,” says Burton. “Cleaning is often done before 8 a.m. and after 4 p.m., and workers are often moving in and out of buildings. Working in teams was safer.”

Eventually, those pairs became a cohesive and efficient unit. In discharge rooms, for instance, patient turnover requires cleaners to come together to complete tasks quicker so rooms are ready for the next patient.

Since the team cleaning approach was implemented six years ago, cleaning times have drastically improved throughout the hospital and tasks are now completed in half the time.

“In hospital kitchens, for instance, housekeeping has only one hour to get in and clean before food preparation on the next shift begins,” says Burton. “There is no way one housekeeper could do that alone. It works great to have two people in there, knowing exactly what needs to be done.”

The management team closely monitors these cleaning times in an effort to keep track of the success of the team cleaning program. Time studies and checklists are maintained and analyzed daily by Burton.

“Team cleaning keeps each individual accountable for their tasks, without being overburdened,” says Burton. “Each person knows what their responsibilities are and task cards are always available so workers know what is expected of them.”

The tasks cards have also helped train new or temporary employees. They are a quick reference to a specific task, rather than a long description of a procedure, and they outline the responsibilities for one team member.  The cards are kept on cleaning carts so they are easily accessible to every person on the team.

“The staff keeps each other on track and they know exactly what their responsibilities are and complete them in a specified time,” says Burton. “We also have daily checklists on each floor of what is expected.  Those are checked and turned in at the end of each day.”

An overall benefit of team cleaning, and one the hospital emphasizes with the checklist, is that cleaning is done the right way, every time.

“It is good to have teamwork because it reduces mistakes and guarantees we are doing the job the right way,” says Maribel Brown, housekeeper at the hospital. “In a team environment, we’ll notice if something gets overlooked and we’ll help each other out.”

This camaraderie has not only created efficiencies, but it has resulted in high job satisfaction in the department. According to Burton, the cleaners prefer working together in a team to the days when they were working alone.

“The team cleaning approach has improved overall morale among the workers,” she says. “There is mutual cooperation among the staff and they know they are all an important part of an overall goal.”