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Teams in Child Care agencies

Hy Resnick

One of the responsibilities of a child care worker, in addition to interacting with the kids, involves interacting with a group of co-workers who come together at a staff meeting , to make plans, discuss problems and even suggest improvements.

Many years ago the staff meeting would be run by a psychiatrist who would make most of the clinical decisions (and often administrative decisions as well ) and communicate them in a top-down way to the staff. In the last decade or two a new more participative format has emerged in the child and youth care field. The new format uses the term team to distinguish from the more traditionally used term group. What’s the difference?

A team is a work group with high performance standards made up of workers who are highly interdependent, that is, they work closely with one another to get their work done. Consisting usually of five to nine members, teams are of two types: those that are management-led and those that are self-directed in managing the team as a whole. Despite such differences they have many features in common, such as described below:

1. They meet regularly, often once a week (or more regularly) with the goal of getting their work done effectively and efficiently. Self directed teams also are usually authorized to implement their decisions.

2. Team members are frequently multi-skilled workers who are, or should be, trained in a variety of skills and knowledge areas. They can be drawn from different departments to work on specific tasks or to work with specific children. Often, though, they are a natural role group which work the same shift or in the same department in the agency.

3. Leadership in self directed teams is shared but even in management led teams the leader is often more of a coach, facilitator or liaison than the traditional " boss ". Members of the self directed teams often perform many ‘supervisory’ functions including hiring, ( even firing ) reviewing performance of members and establishing schedules and work loads.
Other important features of teams include:

Of course helping all these features work well is the important role of leadership. Whether there is a management-designated leader or the leadership rotates among the members, the leader casts a long shadow. He or she is a major force that keeps the team on track and operating at a high performance level.

Although the work team model has originated in the profit-making world it is possible to use many of its features in the child and youth care world. The benefits can include better staff morale, continued staff learning, better management-staff relations, more interesting staff meetings and ultimately more effective service to youthful clients. Problems include sense of reduced control by management and the reality that some decisions may not be the best. Despite these limitations agencies implementing this model have found it useful.