Team Building Day

Boosting morale through teamwork and safety awareness

David Braxton, General Manager, and Steve Kynerd, General Crew Leader, Transportation Maintenance Division, Hillsborough County Public Works Department, Tampa, Florida

In these times of shrinking resources, higher material and equipment costs, and demand for higher service levels, are you searching for a low-cost method to boost team morale in a productive, yet meaningful way? How about improving operator safety and proficiency through friendly competition, heightening safety awareness, and providing your people an opportunity for quick health screens and the chance to give back to your community? If you like all of this, plus a good Bar-B-Q lunch, read on to learn how the Public Works Department of Hillsborough County (FL) makes this happen each year for its employees through an event called "Team Building Day."

First, a little history on how this event began and where we are today. The Team Building Day concept was instituted seven years ago by the Director of the Transportation Maintenance Division of the Public Works Department. This internal event focuses attention on the professional skill sets of maintenance workers and on safety awareness, and boosts the morale of the field personnel within the Maintenance Division. This annual event has blossomed from its initial start as a small, simple heavy equipment rodeo with a quick hot dog lunch at a Public Works Maintenance Unit to a Department-wide event. Many public works-related skill sets are highlighted and emphasized with the focal point being on safety awareness and training; community service; employee health and benefits; and a chance to network and "talk shop" with peers working in other regions of the county.

This professional skills competition is not just a rodeo anymore. It consists of more than 20 events designated by skill sets. Each skill set consists of equipment operations; wheeled vehicle operations; public works worker (incidentally, these are the most fun and interesting); administrative support; engineering technician; and mosquito/aquatic weed control.

Our concept of scoring the competitions differs greatly from the standard rodeo competition. We believe quality and accuracy trump speed. Therefore, rather than judging purely on "best time," event judges discern winners through the competitor's demonstration of skill and quality in performing fun and precision-based trials. Most of these are based on an overarching sports theme. The time allotted to perform the specific event is ample and competitors are scored on the fewest faults or errors committed in the performance of the contest.

In Shootin' Hoops competitors operate a Lightning Loader with bucket to pick up basketballs from atop traffic cones and drop into a basketball goal. (Photo by Fang Shen)

Examples of events include an equipment operator using a hydraulic excavator to collect a basketball from atop a traffic cone and then making a basket by dropping the ball through a basketball goal. This operator may then participate in another event in which he attempts to "catch" moving fish from a small swimming pool using a chain and hook attached to an excavator and secure his catch in a cooler. A driver using a flat-bed dump truck with a soccer ball placed in the bed navigates a small obstacle course to position the rear of the truck in front of a soccer goal and raises the bed to "shoot" the ball into the goal. The competitor may also want to participate in a competition to identify flaws or errors in a CDL pre-trip inspection. Public Works Department staff also enjoy the day by competing in events such as a sandbag filling competition (yes, this event is fun and a timeless hit to our people) and navigating a loaded wheelbarrow through a tight, uneven obstacle course. Sports balls are placed atop a cupped board spanning the bow of the wheel barrow; the balls cannot touch the ground in order to get a qualifying score.

Our engineering technicians are usually busy competing against one another in such events as estimating material quantities, attaining details such as locations and footage information from plat books, and proper set-up of a temporary traffic control design using a tabletop model. Finally, our mosquito control experts play a version of "Name That Tune" by correctly identifying noxious weeds and aquatic vegetation and backing a trailered airboat through a winding course. Our clerical support staff also get into the fun by determining who is best at proofreading documents, and who is most adept in using a ten-key adding machine.

Sandbags go quickly during emergencies. The competitor who bags the most sand and properly secures and transfers the sandbags to a nearby weighing station is declared the winner. This year's winner bagged 180 lbs in two minutes! (Photo by Fang Shen)

A plaque and a small prize, donated by our service providers, await each event winner at the closing ceremony where team building is the theme of our leader's closing comments.

All run to the serving line when the lunch announcement is made! Pre-paid lunches at a cost of $5.50 cover the costs for the meats and side items prepared by a volunteer cook team. They are up preparing food before dawn, and "They know their BBQ"! This team brought home the BBQ Cook-off Trophy from the State APWA conference in 2005. Soft drinks and bottled water are sold throughout the day at a nominal cost to cover expenses and further offset the food prices.

In between competitions, our people visit safety product demonstrators who "talk safety" and display new products relevant to public works activities. Our credit union reps answer questions, change account information, enroll new members and accept loan applications. Investment counselors from our three deferred compensation carriers also update client information and establish new accounts. And our Human Resources Department reps are always a huge draw as personnel seek a quick health screen and discuss options and changes to their benefit package and insurance policies. Nearby, personnel gather under a tent for a brief safety training session conducted by our safety professionals.

Cost? Costs are, and always will be, at the forefront of any event for employees of public entities. Public Works is no different, and has been successful in keeping costs to a reasonable level by utilizing internal venues such as County parks and local fair grounds. The use of internal resources, in addition to those provided by our sister departments, offset many of the event costs. Sheltered venues such as tents, canopies, and portable restrooms are the only significant items requiring an outlay of funds.

This year's event held on March 26, 2008 proved to be another successful and enjoyable day as new, challenging and fun events were added to the competitions. Our award-winning BBQ cook team once again donned their aprons and prepared a great lunch. This year employees were able to renew acquaintances, learn more about safety and do a little business with our County service providers. Staff also organized a food drive to benefit Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa, and also collected donations for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. During past events employees' efforts provided a beneficial community service by donating blood through Florida Blood Services.

Interested and want to learn more? Coordinators of Hillsborough County's event are always available to provide additional insight and guidance in helping others implement their own Team Building Day concept. It is our desire to see the Team Building Day concept expand to benefit our unsung heroes, the public works line staff across the nation.

David Braxton can be reached at (813) 307-1769 or braxtond@hillsboroughcounty.org; Steve Kynerd can be reached at (813) 554-5007 or kynerds@hillsboroughcounty.org.