• July/August 2015
  • Vol. 16, No. 6

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Using Design Teams to Improve Worker Satisfaction

A recent journal article reports on a 5-year initiative beginning in 2003 that implemented and tested the Design Team model in five public child welfare agencies. The initiative was jointly supported by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau. The overarching goal of the initiative was to foster team building within the agency, as teams collectively have more diverse skills, knowledge of clients, and job satisfaction.

State child welfare agencies face an ongoing challenge in retaining and recruiting employees and maintaining a stable workforce. High turnover rates lead to understaffing, which leaves remaining workers with high caseloads. Design teams offer a model for implementing a team-based, learning organization practice that can help child welfare agencies and professionals solve complex problems, generate new knowledge, mentor and coach each other, and increase the engagement of individual staff members.

The initiative's research team met with staff from the five selected agencies to introduce the Design Team concept and discuss agency-wide problems that staff would like addressed. Design teams, which included middle managers, supervisors, and front-line professionals, were created to categorize, prioritize, design, and implement solutions for the problems. While the issues identified by each agency varied, typical problems included safety, job stress and burn-out, unclear job descriptions, on-call responsibilities, lack of recognition, and inconsistent supervision. Each team was provided with a master's level social work facilitator with organizational and team-building experience.

The teams participating in the initiative demonstrated some success in addressing agency policy and practice, reducing workforce turnover, and supporting practices that engaged staff at all organizational levels. The findings from the study show that the Design Team model may positively affect overall worker job satisfaction and can potentially improve worker retention.

The article, "Design Teams as an Organizational Intervention to Improve Job Satisfaction and Worker Turnover in Public Child Welfare," by N. Claiborne, C. Auerbach, C. Lawrence, B. McGowan, H. Lawson, M. McCarthy, J. Strolin-Goltzman, and J. Caringi, Journal of Family Strengths 14(1), 2014, is available at http://digitalcommons.library.tmc.edu/jfs/vol14/iss1/12/.

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