As many of us have experienced, human nature often has us placing (or displacing) blame when faced with difficulties and issues. As general contractors (GCs), we’ve all seen superintendents and project leaders quick to blame external sources when projects hit a rocky spot and turn into over-budget, over-schedule projects. This blame typically falls on our trade partners.
Construction is a relationship-based industry, and we tend to make decisions with that in mind. It is easy to make excuses when you’re friends, or even related, to the trade partner you are working and struggling with. Sometimes we blame it on widespread industry issues or growing pains.
But when issues arise, how and why do we decide to give them a second chance or when to ultimately move on?
It’s important to remember no one is perfect. The issues could just as easily be an internal issue versus an external one. It’s always easier to point fingers at others than to accept that we could be at fault. I often say that when you point one finger at someone else, you are pointing three fingers at yourself.
Before Placing Blame, Ask These Questions
Before blaming others, make sure to ask these questions as the GC on the job:
- Are we training and communicating our expectations for timelines, quality, budget, and teaming?
- How are we handling conflict resolution and remediation steps?
- Are we fostering a safe environment that’s conducive to communication?
- Are we asking the right questions and actually listening to the answers?
- Are we providing the information needed for response in a timely manner and in a method that is accepted by all?
We’ve all had issues that arise on the job site. Each time that I’ve experienced such, I’ve spent many hours thinking how we can avoid these issues in the future – part of our continuous improvement approach at Skiles Group.
Here are four suggestions to create teaming relationships that work:
- Select true trade partners. It’s crucial to pick a team that understands your why, has bought into the project process – in our case a Lean Construction process, and is aligned to the goal. More often than not, the lowest bid is not the solution.
- Educate yourself and your team on how trade partners operate. Understand the steps they must take to complete their tasks and get to know not only the project manager and superintendent, but also the foreman and their crew. Foster new relationships and maintain those. We believe in respect for people – for every person on that jobsite.
- Have an open conversation with the trade partner to understand why a problem happened and what can be done to not only move past this, but also to learn from it. Change the discussion stance from an issue to a learning opportunity. Protect your trade partner if they admit to a mistake, keeping in mind what goes around comes around. There may be a time when they will need to bail you out of a jam or protect you. The project will only succeed if everyone works as a team.
- Ask for constructive feedback. Sometimes the issue lies within your team. The driver of the problem could be anything from a lack of proper communication to a lack of setting goals and standards. Listen and take their answers into consideration. Be open to hearing if the root cause is on your side and accept responsibility to act.
Sometimes, there will be a moment when you can’t resolve conflict and you wonder if a trade partner deserves a second chance. It happens, and it’s never easy.
Time to Move On?
Here are three questions to consider if it’s time to move on:
- Was the bad work the result of something out of the trade partner’s control (g. a carpenter quit on him and the work was delayed finding a new one), or did the contractor just simply screw up?
- Was the contractor candid with you before the job about what to expect in terms of process, timeline, and scope?
- Have you suffered real harm because of the contractor’s bad job?
Construction can be a stressful and conflict-arising industry. Most times we are working within tight constraints with the weight of schedule and budget driving our day-to-day interactions.
Having a good team is crucial to completing projects successfully. Select the right people for the right seats and ensure that everyone is aligned internally and externally with the goals for the project.
Once set, a True North can help avoid almost any future conflict. And, if conflict does arise, you have the right foundation in place to work through why it happened and how the team can fix it, learn from it, and move on.
Construction is a relationship-based industry with many dependencies. We all need each other and must work together to deliver successful projects.