Moving Mountains Best Practices
2002 Award Winner Two

Vinfen Corporation

For Excellence in creating, developing, and nurturing Self-Managed Work Teams (SMTs) with direct support professionals as team leaders and members. 
The intervention for which Vinfen Corporation won the Moving Mountains award is the creation, development, and continuing growth of Self-Managed Work Teams (SMTs) within their MR Division. The time and circumstances for developing self-directed work groups grew out of a culture or environment in which innovation is encouraged, risks taken, and accomplishments recognized and rewarded. Within this culture, a Direct Support Professional from Sweden, a bright, energetic, and persuasive person, through an exchange program in 1996, began work in one of the residential programs that provides supports for persons with developmental disabilities. One of her concerns was that she couldn’t believe how direct support staff seemed to be ‘stifled” under the American structure of hierarchy and micro-management. She shared how the authority and responsibility for providing supports and for getting all the work done (hiring, selection, training, scheduling, compensation, etc.) in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries was with the DSP. She worked hard with her colleagues as well as the managers and executives within the MR Division at Vinfen to convince them to try out a model of management called self-managed work teams (SMTs).

Within this framework of enthusiasm, creativity, and optimism, a proposal was developed, reviewed and approval granted for the first SMT called the Co-op Network. With the elimination of the supervisor position, another DSP was added and the responsibilities, formerly completed by the supervisor, were done by all the team members who elect a new team leader every 6 – 12 months. The quick success of the first SMT led to DSPs and a program manager of the Apartment Living Program proposing and receiving approval for a second SMT in 1998. A third SMT, the Hewlitt Apartments, was also proposed and approved in 1998. The fourth SMT, the Catherine Street Apartments, was proposed and approved in 1999. 

Some of the key strengths of Vinfen’s SMTs include the following:

  • Team members are a very serious and strong system of advocates who work hard and smart for the persons they support. They talk with local service case managers, advocacy and legal services organizations, families, legislative bodies, and any other group or agency to get resources and eliminate barriers so individuals achieve their dreams and goals
  • They demonstrate the same tenacity and persistence used through system advocacy to demonstrate individual advocacy.
  • They use the dynamics of groups to build on each other’s ideas, often discovering very creative solutions to some very difficult and persistent challenges to achieve a better quality of life that would not be possible with one person working with an individual alone.
  • They use the administrative and clinical resources of Vinfen to learn, create, develop, and implement more effective programs and services for the individuals they support.
  • Each SMT team member takes their specific team responsibilities seriously and with enthusiasm. Each takes a lead role and responsibility for at least one of these areas: health, safety, human rights, community membership, office supplies and equipment, and other areas as needed.
  • Together team members work passionately in such areas as clinical/case reviews, recruiting, selecting, orienting, training new employees, and providing feedback for their peers, on all program areas, and for the program director.

For more information, contact: Michael Bloom, Program Manager