On Your Mark, Get Set, NO! Your Construction Project is Not a Race
Our good friend Dick Bayer wrote the foreword for our book, The Lean Builder, where he suggests that general contractors have spent years (unintentionally) making it as difficult as possible for our trade partners to be successful on projects. We silo their contracts, give them unrealistic deadlines, and pit them against one another in the race for territory and work. When I think about the construction projects I’ve been part of, I can’t deny that this is true. I’ve watched many trades duke it out to get their ductwork, fire sprinkler piping, conduit runs, or whatever it is up first, regardless of the impact to another trade—and I’ve even seen trades remove, destroy, or cover up another trade’s work if it was in their way. For many builders, the construction project is a race and speed is the game: get in and get out! Is it any wonder that the trades see their #1 objective as speeding to get to their own finish line?
Those of us on our Lean journey have recognized that our construction projects are a team game. There is no “us vs. them;” we have transitioned to building a team in the field the same way we do in sports, meaning we are focusing on building bonds between our forepersons and then focusing them around the goals and priorities of the project. If this is something you are open to try, today I’m providing the playbook.
Onboard your team
Onboarding your trade partners provides a way for them to reach common levels of learning and project understanding. Creating an onboarding presentation or manual for foremen to orient them to the project is a great way to get everyone on the same page. The presentation/manual should cover the following: introduction of all team members, goals for the project, review of site logistics, schedule, safety requirements, quality expectations, Lean construction expectations, and housekeeping items like submittals, RFIs, and billing procedures. Many GCs do this, but they do this individually, with each trade, not with the entire team. Starting this session with an ice breaker activity will really lighten things up and make it fun.
Get to know each other
Don’t call your electrician “Sparky”—call your foreman by their names. Get to know them and allow them to get to know each other. Put a picnic table outside the trailer and invite the guys to come sit and eat over lunch or invite everyone to meet for a drink after work. The more you get the team on a first name basis, the easier it will be for them to work together onsite.
Value your trades
Each man or woman on the job brings something unique to the table, and their expertise can be a major asset to the project. Lean construction is all about respect for people; take the approach that your job is to make them feel like their job matters. You will be surprised by what ideas come to the table when you allow it.
Have you ever had two different trades come up to you at the same time talking about an issue that involves the other one? Empower them to collaborate. Have them go into the field together to come up with their own solutions before bringing the issue to you.
Get your foremen aligned with the mini and major milestones of the project. Put a scoreboard up and make it fun. The team should always know the dates of the upcoming milestones and feel ownership around the commitments they make toward meeting those goals.
Celebrate your success and learn from your failures
If someone pulls a late shift or puts in high quality work, give them a shout out in front of the team. Acknowledge when trades are working well together. Alternatively, when the team fails, don’t throw people under the bus. The mentality should be if one trade fails, we all fail. Bring the team together and help them understand what went wrong and what countermeasures can ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Do you have any ideas, lessons learned, or success stories on the subject of team-building for project success? Please add to the conversation in the comments.