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Benefits of Team-Based Scheduling

Clint Maun, CSP

Some of the most frequently asked questions by our clients and on phone conferences revolve around staff retention issues. We have found that in today’s world, retaining workers requires you, the employer, to involve them in the scheduling process. "The rigidity of working practices has been identified as being one of the prime reasons for employees leaving... " (Team Based Self-Rostering Policy)

Centralized scheduling produces limited success, particularly in organizations that experience a great deal of drama with their schedules. There are hassles on nights and weekends and holidays, not enough help, and people being asked to float and work doubles and pick up. If this sort of drama exists in your organization, you probably should consider team-based scheduling. Team-based scheduling “reduces administrative effort by streamlining what ... (is) a very cumbersome process.” (MedHub, Inc.)

Young workers, in particular, not only want, but expect to be involved in the scheduling. If they are left out of the process, they will be asking for time off anyway, and it’s not likely to be at a time conducive to keeping the work schedule running smoothly. And if the employees are unable get the time off or have to deal with too much of a centralized control-freak process, they’re going to do the one thing that drives organizations nuts: they’re going to call off. And the reason they will do that is to gain a bit of control over their own lives. The thinking goes something like this: “If I can’t have at least enough power in my life to take time off when I need it, I’ll just take it anyway. I’ll show you—I’ll just call off.”

This scenario involving younger workers in no way means that older workers don’t want involvement in scheduling and time off too, but many times they’ve already got the system set up and everyone knows who takes off when and for what. “Sue takes off at Thanksgiving, and Joe gets the last two weeks in June to take his kids someplace, and Jane takes the middle two weeks of August to go to Alaska.” So if the scheduling process is a top-down system in terms of how long a worker has been there, it is certainly going to create a situation with a lot of rats leaving the village and going to one nut in the hut, the scheduler, trying to get time off. And when everyone is asking for time off, the person in charge of scheduling either has to turn into a weenie and let everybody off and then try to get people to back-fill, work doubles, or call the agency, or he has to turn into a nasty person and say, “No, you can’t have it.” Team-based scheduling is “a ’bottom up’ approach to scheduling work, giving people more control over the pattern of their working week. Parameters are set by agreeing in advance the levels of staff and skill mix required ... throughout the working day.” (Team Based Self-Rostering Policy)

Team-based scheduling means that each unit or shift in an organization needs to discuss, as a group, who wants off and when, who’s willing to work a double, how the float schedule will work, what’s in it for those taking on the double shifts and such. Then they need to work together to create a workable schedule for all, rather than having everyone running separately to the scheduler. Team-based scheduling reduces “supervisor time dedicated to scheduling and results in a schedule that more effectively accommodates ... preferences and personal commitments, and necessitates fewer revisions.” (Promising Practices)

In addition to this kind of team-based involvement in the scheduling process, coworkers need to determine work expectations and establish procedures for dealing with out-of-bounds people who take off too much time, call off, are frequently tardy, or often leave work early. The team needs to intervene when those kinds of problems occur to make sure the coworkers know that this sort of behavior creates chaos for the whole group. Team-based interventions have been shown to be the most effective way of dealing with a co-worker whose behavior has become unacceptable.

Another consideration that must be included in team-based scheduling is how to deal with holiday periods and popular vacation times. The team needs to determine what must be done to maintain quality of service, keeping in mind, first and foremost, what is best for the customers. Team-based scheduling means “agreeing (on) the staffing levels and skill mix required at any time in the day, then giving staff the ability to schedule their working day collectively to meet these requirements.” (Team Based Self-Rostering Policy) The team must be secondary. It must make the conscious decision to create schedules that are good for the customers or people they serve, not ones that put the company or workers first. If the company or its workers receive primary consideration, the customer finishes last, and that’s not right. Team-based schedules must have safeguards that guarantee that the people being served always receive priority.

Another critical component of team-based scheduling is the willingness of team members to trade with each other, call each other when they’re ill, ask someone else to pick up, and be willing to fill in or work double shifts for someone else. If the worker is responsible enough to find a replacement, this time off should not count against the worker vis-à-vis any kind of disciplinary action or point system.

Of course, some people will ask, “What if a person can’t find a replacement?” Well, then the organization needs to find the replacement. But the question is, how many times? Are you going to do it fifty times? Are you going to do it three times? How about twenty times? You have to move beyond merely trying to put out the fires. A system with one person—i.e., the scheduler—trying to fix all the scheduling problems is just not workable. Team-based scheduling tends to alleviate these kinds of problems. In situations where team-based scheduling was properly implemented, supervisors became comfortable with team-based scheduling and perceived that the approach . . . reduced friction, strengthened, teamwork, increased job satisfaction, and enhanced morale.” (Promising Practices)

If the people in your organization are willing to share information about time off and time on, have the desire to work out schedules as a team, and are able to present a viable scheduling package to the scheduler, the scheduler in effect becomes the chairperson of a team-based effort rather than the freak who has to try to figure it all out for everyone. Then everyone wins.

Works Cited

“MedHub, Inc. Completes Development of Team-based Scheduling Engine.” MedHub, Inc. 2006.


“Promising Practices in State Survey Agencies: Team-Based Scheduling Practices, Idaho.” University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, for the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 2005.


“Team Based Self-Rostering Policy.” Headquarters Human Resources. National Health Service in Scotland. December 2002.