Doug Ouellette Believes Teamwork Is All The More Important At Smaller Facilities

Doug Ouellete believes teamwork is all the more important at smaller facilities. Lessons from a management boot camp helped him build a solid team.

Doug Ouellette Believes Teamwork Is All The More Important At Smaller Facilities
The team at the Jamestown Wastewater Treatment Facility includes, from left, David Greene, assistant superintendent; Paul Robertson, plant operator; and Doug Ouellette, plant superintendent.

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Great teams are built on solid foundations. Doug Ouellette, superintendent at the Jamestown (R.I.) Wastewater Treatment Facility, knows teamwork matters all the more when a staff is small.

Ouellette has assembled a strong team of three, including David Greene, assistant superintendent, and Paul Robertson, operator. He is invested in helping both acquire the knowledge and skills they need. Ouellette draws on his two colleagues’ experience and expertise and encourages them to succeed.

The plant sits on a small island in Narragansett Bay and serves about 1,200 customers. The extended aeration process treats 350,000 gpd; design capacity is 720,000 gpd.

Jacks of all trades

In his 15th year managing the facility, Ouellette sets the tone for his team to work together effectively. He stresses that each member must know what is going on at all times. “We need very open lines of communication because if one person is off for the day or at another site, the others must fill in,” he says.

Ouellette serves as a facilitator, sponsor or coordinator, depending on each situation. Having worked up through the ranks, he has the background, information and experience for each job. He also knows how to let his team members put their abilities to work.

“We all work well together — we have to,” he says. “At larger facilities there may be people who stay with specific tasks. But in our smaller department, we have to be more versatile with a large knowledge base. We do everything ourselves.”

Help from the outside

In a state where there are only 19 sewer departments, the Jamestown team could feel isolated. To promote knowledge sharing and continuing education, Ouellette encourages his team members to attend regional meetings and conferences.

Ouellette is a graduate of the first Wastewater Operator Management Boot Camp, sponsored by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). “It was new and no one knew what to expect,” he says. “Initially I thought, ‘OK, I’ll try this out.’ By the final session I had gained a lot of exposure to other facilities and wastewater professionals. It was worth my time.”

Through the boot camp, Ouellette identified management skills he needed to strengthen and expanded and improved his management style and communication ability. Working on those areas, he brought a renewed focus on management, teamwork and extending the facility’s reach into the community.

Ouellette believes a superintendent must put the facility’s needs in the forefront so the assets can be properly maintained. “It’s important for the administration to know what is going on,” he says. “That helps avoid any unknowns down the road.”

Reaching out

The boot camp also helped him get over his discomfort with public speaking: “Now with the training I received, even though I still prefer not to, I can do it.”

He actively educates decision-makers. “I am proactive in my communications with the administration and the town manager,” he says. “I provide a broader picture of operations and that has helped improve relationships. We’re out ahead, as much as we can be, of issues and activity, and that’s positive.”

Whether communicating to elected officials, the media or community residents, Ouellette and his team are thoughtful in their presentations. “I’m much more forthright in educating others on what our wastewater department does,” he says. “We are more than ditch diggers. This is a professional field with career options.” Good communication has helped raise awareness that the Jamestown team’s work is important to the community.

Learning for the staff

Knowing the benefits he gained from development programs, Ouellette extends such opportunities to his team members. He encouraged Greene and Robertson to attend the DEM Boot Camp, as well as training programs and conferences offered by state and industry associations. Those sessions increase their understanding of processes and procedures and elevate their communication skills. In turn, staff members bring new ideas and improved processes back to the plant.

“These programs provide a new perspective and a broader picture of operations outside our facilities,” Ouellette says. “For example, through the training David now has a better understanding of our fiscal responsibility and the way we’re operating.”

Ouellette tries to identify each member’s strengths and areas for growth. He takes learning beyond employee development to team development. “We share information and we work well together,” he says. “We can sit down, discuss ideas and plan for improvements. I will continue to send my team to employee development sessions because it benefits not only each person, but the whole team. It makes us stronger.”

Sense of community

Rhode Island has a tight-knit wastewater community where departments work with one another. Connections are important to the Jamestown team’s development. “We may see other departments at trade shows, but through events like the boot camp we work closely with one other,” Ouellette says. “We share information and discuss regulatory and compliance issues. We make stronger connections.”

Ouellette encourages his team to develop relationships with team members at other plants, large and small. To that end, the team tours other facilities. “On-site visits help us establish a baseline as to how we run our facility, what we know and what we can do to improve operations,” says Ouellette. “As an operator attending classes and site visits, Paul is gaining greater exposure to other facilities. This helps us to see where we are compared to others in how we operate and what we can improve.”

Through his own development, Ouellette rose to the challenge of continuous improvement in all aspects of his job and of fostering teamwork across functional and department boundaries. It’s an excellent way to place a clean-water facility on a strong foundation.   


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