Becoming Part of the Team

Most teams have specialists. The center on a basketball team rarely plays guard and the quarterback usually does not punt. There are instances, however, when players interchange spots. An infielder on a baseball team who plays shortstop or second base equally well or a midfielder on a soccer team who also plays defender comes to mind.

Specialists who can change tasks if desired is also the premise behind team cleaning. This effective cleaning approach is becoming more and more popular with college and university facility personnel as they seek to address employee issues and to complete required cleaning as economically as possible.

The Approach

“Team cleaning is a management system that helps organize various tasks in a systematic approach,” said Rich Steinberg, vice president, Business Development, for ProTeam, Inc., a leading vacuum manufacturer. The company advocates team cleaning with its customers as a way to do more within an efficient framework.

For his team analogy, Steinberg uses a medical staff where each individual is trained in a certain task. They can sometimes change roles based on demand, but they traditionally handle one assignment.

“An individual in the team is trained for multiple tasks but has one assignment at a time,” said Steinberg.“We see the use of team cleaning as a growing trend on college and university campuses. Institutions learn the basic theory and then put their own touches on the approach to best suit their needs.”

Four individuals are typically part of a team, with assignments as a light-duty specialist or starter, and utility, bathroom, and vacuuming specialists. Each person completes his or her assigned tasks and works with equipment suited to his or her needs. A detailed roadmap tells team members how to clean and the tools to use.

The starter begins the process and dusts, picks up trash, and handles spot cleaning. The vacuuming specialist cleans carpet and hard floors and may perform detail work on certain days, such as vacuuming upholstery or cleaning vents. Cleaning, sanitizing, and restocking restrooms are the responsibility of the bathroom specialist. The utility person, the last team member to rotate through an area, is responsible for duties that may include polishing floors or brass.

The Advantages

There are a number of advantages associated with team cleaning. Facility personnel are often asked to do more with less, and team cleaning addresses this need. A member of the cleaning staff who has been doing the same task for 10 years may have trouble adjusting when his assignment is expanded or changed. However, the person who typically performs one task but is trained to do others — the case with team cleaning — easily adjusts to changing work requirements.

Steinberg reports that the first two team members through an area — the light-duty specialist or starter, and the vacuuming specialist — can clean a 10,000-sq.-ft. area in approximately one hour if they have been properly trained and have the right equipment, such as backpack vacuums. That figures drops to approximately 3,000 sq. ft. in an hour using a traditional or zone cleaning approach and an upright vacuum.

It is easier to transport equipment with team cleaning, and multiple trips to obtain equipment are reduced. The restroom specialist has a cart outfitted specifically for that purpose and does not need to make multiple trips to a storage area to get supplies. According to Steinberg, some equipment, such as backpack vacuums, is integral to team cleaning. These portable units enable users to easily transport the 10- to 11-lb. vacuums on their backs. An equipment belt holds all required tools. It is an efficient way to move throughout a building, and is akin to the specialized carts used by the starter and bathroom specialist.

Three other benefits also stand out. First, team cleaning gives workers an added sense of pride because they receive targeted training and have the best equipment available for their use. Because they work with others, security and cooperation are also improved, a second important point. Finally, team cleaning addresses sustainability issues because efficiencies are increased, excellent equipment is used, and the use of some products, such as chemicals, is typically reduced.

The University of Washington Story

The University of Washington in Seattle adopted team cleaning approximately eight years ago, and has implemented the system in a phased approach.“We currently have nine teams cleaning a variety of facilities, including classrooms, the law school, and a research lab,” said Gene Woodard, director of facility services, Custodial Division, for the university. “Some staff resisted the change at first, but our team members now believe that the system works very well.”

Woodard says that team cleaning was adopted because university personnel believed that it was a more equitable way to assign tasks. Productivity is also improved because team members becomes very good at performing one task even though they know how to handle multiple assignments.

“We evaluate cleaning requirements when a new building comes on line,” said Woodard. “If we need three or more staff members to clean the facility, then we use team cleaning from the beginning. We have found that four member teams are ideal for us.”

The university’s investment in team cleaning has paid off, in Woodard’s opinion. The university retrained personnel when it originally implemented the system, and provides ongoing training based on personnel requirements. Specialized trash carts were purchased, as were backpack vacuums, and the university continues to purchase this equipment as warranted. Upright vacuums are also used, especially wider-based vacuums that are used to clean large, open areas.

“Our teams take a great deal of pride in their capabilities and in the facilities they clean,” Woodard stated. “Team cleaning works well for us.”

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