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Virginia manager uses contests to help turn staff into a team

A new manager set building staff teamwork as her first goal. And she decided that the best way to reach that goal was to make it fun.

So she set up contests that require the staff to work and think together and come up with ideas that will benefit the office. The neurological practice in Virginia has eight physicians and 36 staff.

The first contest was held in a restaurant during a staff dinner. For that, she asked each department to figure out a way to improve patient flow in its own area and also to tell how it receives help from another department.

The department heads presented the ideas, and the physicians selected the best presentation. Each presenter got a teamwork pin, and the winner received a mall gift certificate.

The presentations were fantastic, the manager said. One group, for example, brought in a puzzle made of erasers to show how all the departments have to work together. Another made a sign with a diagonal line drawn through “BMG” – which stood for “bitching, moaning, and groaning.”

The next contest was held at the end of the day, and there staff gave suggestions for saving money. Participation was individual instead of by department so everybody had a chance to win.

Again, the doctors chose the winning idea, which was to compile the daily correspondence to referring offices in single envelopes instead of mailing each item separately. All that correspondence is now brought to a box with a divider for each practice plus a large envelope already addressed. At the end of the day, the staffer in charge fills all the envelopes and mails them out. That staffer is also responsible for the mailing list, so the addresses stay updated. Besides saving postage, the system means staff don’t have to address an envelope for each piece of correspondence.

For the after-hours meetings, staff are paid overtime. The physicians come to the meetings and they enjoy them as much as the staff do, the manager says. They also say it makes them appreciate what the staff do.

What the contests are doesn’t matter, she says. What counts is that everybody participates and that staff see they are a part of things and that their ideas are important and that they can make changes in the office.

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