4 Ways Contractors Can Build a Team-Based Work Culture

Getting teams to work better together can bring big benefits to your bottom line.

Generation gaps, lack of trust, competing priorities, lack of open communication: These factors can slow down construction projects and even chip away at safety. But a company culture that fosters teamwork can have the opposite effects, boosting your bottom line by improving productivity, reducing injuries and even increasing worker happiness, which could raise retention rates.

Where to start? Consider these four approaches.

Empower employees to speak up

One challenge faced by many companies, including those using Lean/integrated project delivery, is that team members may not feel they have the authority to speak up. When was the last time your field crew shared an idea with project management?

When all team members feel encouraged to share ideas, the company gains the value of unique perspectives that can help solve complex problems.

Consider the trend among large general contractors of encouraring workers to say something if they see a potential hazard or stop work if they think a task presents a danger to themselves or others. When employees recognize that leadership supports safety above productivity and wants to hear their suggestions and concerns, they feel more like valued members of the team.

Consider creating a “no-backlash” policy to protect employees who voice concerns, then prove to employees that you’ll follow through. According to an article in Safety+Health magazine, when a relatively new employee at Chicago-based McHugh Construction made a phone call about a possible crane problem — because his bosses had encouraged him to speak up about any potential hazards — management listened, acted on the employee’s advice and then publicly acknowledged the interaction and its successful outcome. The result? A stronger team, a safer workplace and, ultimately, cost savings from a lower experience modification rate.

Assign teams to solve problems

Lay the groundwork for company-wide teamwork by forming teams to solve specific problems. A clear purpose is a critical component of a successful team.

Englewood Construction developed committees staffed by team members with a wide range of backgrounds to explore different aspects of the business.  Its first committee addressed construction technology, a topic chosen to encourage the involvement of younger team members passionate about technology. Everyone on the committee was tasked with identifying ways tech solutions could help the business and its clients.

Train doers and leaders

Promoting ongoing education opportunities for employees can keep them engaged with the company, and with each another. Whether you send a handful of employees to a conference with the mission of reporting back on five takeaways learned or create two-way mentor relationships from which senior members and new trainees alike can learn, you’re setting up employees to build on one another’s knowledge.  

And while it might seem counterintuitive, training leadership skills can help build more effective teams. Teams depend on strong leaders to keep the group on task.

Be part of the team

Being a part of the discussion, and not just a source of direction, is the best way for management to earn trust in a team-based approach.

When an employee approaches management with a suggestion for changing business practices or improving safety, hear him or her out. Weigh the validity of the suggestion, ask questions and provide feedback. When appropriate, put the input into action. If something good comes of it, celebrate the outcome.

When employees see evidence that what they say matters, they’ll start looking for new ways to improve their work experience — and the company as a whole.