Manager's Forum

What “team building” efforts does your agency participate in?

Paducah, Ky.
Kim Adair
Executive Director
Paducah Area Transit System

At Paducah Area Transit System, we’ve had several events to promote team building and simply to allow employees to interact with each other and our board members away from their regular daily activities. I think these activities are very important for any business, but especially in transit. We have employees in different departments with vastly different duties, from drivers, to dispatchers to customer service representatives. It’s important for them to participate in activities which help them realize that although their roles may be different, they all fit together in the bigger picture to get the job done. It’s also important to let them see each other as real people, and not just persons who work at the same place.

One event, which has proven very popular with employees and board members, is our annual cookout with board members. All our board members don their aprons, light the charcoal and actually grill for all our employees. It gives our board members a chance to see the drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and customer service representatives as more than a name or number on a piece of paper. They can speak with them informally about what they like or dislike about their jobs, and learn first hand what it’s like “on the routes.” On the other hand, our employees can see our board members in a different light, too. Because of the cookout, they see board members as people who care enough about them to actually come and spend time with them and listen to them. Of course, everyone also loves the food!

At Paducah Area Transit System, like other places of business, we’ve found that healthier employees make happier and better employees, so this past year, we’ve made an effort to get healthier. We began early in the summer by announcing PATS’ Weight Loss Challenge. Many of our employees signed up and weighed in for the summer-long contest. They began watching what they ate and exercising for the contest. Although it was competition, it was great to see how they supported each other throughout the summer, and even offered tips to each other on healthier eating habits. Many employees spent time during the day to “walk off the pounds.” By the end of the summer, we lost lots of weight and gained healthier lifestyles.

During that period we also began a weekly health series during which employees or other guests spoke with us about health issues. One employee talked about how diabetes had taken its toll on his and his family’s health, while also explaining just what it is, and how the rest of us can have a better chance at avoiding it. Another talked about exercise, and how it transformed his life and could for the rest of us, too. After the weight loss challenge was over, many employees carried over the healthy habits they learned and continued to lose weight and live healthier lives. It made a real difference in the quality of their lives, and the quality of their work!

Another annual event for our transit is a Flu Shot Clinic. Each year, we work with the Purchase Area Health Department to provide flu shots for our employees in the lobby of our main transfer station. It’s a popular event for our employees and another way in which we’ve made it easier for them to remain healthier. It’s also very popular with our passengers, as the shots are made available to them, as well.

While employee picnics are enjoyable, at Paducah Area Transit System, we’ve long had a tradition of employee Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It’s a special time of the year for family, and it brings our employee family together to give thanks and celebrate the holidays. For those of our employees who don’t have family in the area, it’s a special way to celebrate the holidays with their surrogate family. For all of our employees, it’s a way to bond and reaffirm our thankfulness for what we have, while looking forward to the coming year.

Phoenix, Ariz.
David Boggs
Executive Director
Valley Metro

Recognizing staff that are making a solid effort to build upon the success of their organization is a critical component of a smart business philosophy. In these days of dwindling budgets and economic uncertainty, how does an employer best meet this challenge? It may be time to look for opportunities to create new ways to reward staff for being loyal and productive.

There are several things that I have found to be extremely successful in making employees feel like they are appreciated and an important part of the team. As a leader, I have the opportunity to be a role model and set the tone for the culture and pace of the agency. I subscribe to a friendly and open leadership style by asking staff questions, being interested in their day-to-day activities, and allowing them to ask me questions. As a result, they walk away feeling more confident and valued. If staff needs to air an issue they feel is very important to them or the agency, I believe they feel comfortable taking that step.

Key areas of teambuilding at our agency include:

1. Monthly birthday celebrations: Each month we recognize employee birthdays by providing cake and ice cream for all staff. A conference room is decorated and everyone is encouraged to join us to enjoy the treat and sing happy birthday. It’s a nice break from the business of the day.

2. Holiday visits: For those employees who work shifts on Christmas, New Year’s Day and other widely recognized holidays, I make it a point to visit our work sites that are staffed, whether it’s Customer Service or Operations, to greet them with holiday wishes. They are usually surprised when I walk in the door on a day that they would expect me to be at home with family.

3. Birthday cards: I like to recognize the birthdays of each staff member by writing them a note and including a $10 gift card for the local movie theatre. Although it is nominal, it is really appreciated.

4. All-staff meetings: Quarterly update meetings with special treats help bring employees together for an open forum. Senior managers give employees an appropriate platform to ask questions.

5. Team activity: We continue to seek opportunities to work together as a team outside of the office. Staff was asked to volunteer, and bring their families along, to work at a local food bank on a Saturday. That was probably one of the best team-building experiences I’ve encountered and we will definitely do it again.

6. Transit roadeos: These are very effective at team building because the planning requires a lot of coordination and compromise, as well as pulling many different resources together from various agencies and outside contractors to accomplish a single goal. It is also another opportunity to meet co-workers’ families, which makes us all a little more human. We temporarily suspended the roadeo in 2009 due to budgetary concerns, but hope we can begin to plan our next one in the near future.

The common ingredient in these activities is communication and sincerity. Events, visits and special recognition open the door to conversation, which makes a person feel important and inspires greater team effort.