How to Develop Successful Construction Teams

construction team buildingConstruction company teams often function like a baseball team. Sometimes they have to function more like a football team. Whatever the case, the two keys to success are the right players in the right positions, and the right management leading in the right way.

Think about a baseball team. Each person plays his or her own position, many times involving little interaction with others on the team. If most of the players are competent and a few are superstars, the prospects of everything coming together in the end are good.

Now think about a football team. Players also play fixed positions, but interact and support each other more. Without cohesive movements and communication, the prospects for failure are good.

“Both types of teams often exist within a construction company,” says David Fellman, a respected author and speaker on various management topics. “The whole idea for management is to get people performing better on an individual basis, as well as working better together when necessary.”

Below are some essential steps to building a championship construction team.

Evaluate Skills and Attitudes

On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate the performance of your best employee? How do you rate your worst employee? Those become the endpoints that allow you to rate all of your employees.

Fellman says it’s important to consider the following criteria when evaluating employee performance. In fact, some employers go as far as rating each of the below criteria on an individual basis.

  • Job skills
  • Initiative
  • Dedication to company
  • Dedication to team
  • Work ethic
  • “Like” factor
  • “Trust” factor
  • Potential for advancement
  • Verbal communication skills
  • Listening skills

When analyzing your employee ratings, don’t jump to conclusions too quickly.

“Depending on the specific job a person does, it might not make any difference if they are good at a certain thing,” Fellman says. Identify those characteristics that matter most to an individual’s job when analyzing their performance.

In the event that you do identify areas that need improvement, it is essential to have a planned effort to improve them.

Tips to Bring Out the Best in Employees

The effort to improve job skills is pretty straightforward: Have a high-performer do the teaching.

“You also need training resources to train employees on how to complete a certain task the way you want them to complete it,” Fellman adds.

Sometimes an employee will prove incapable of learning the essential job skills. In some instances, you could consider moving the employee into a different role. The bigger issue is when an employee does not have the willingness to learn.

Initiative is an equally important trait to look for in employees. Initiative is hard to teach, though.

“Bringing about initiative is largely about engagement,” Fellman explains. “Ask employees what they think about a certain process. How might they do it differently? When you ask them and involve them you can teach them and develop them.”

Engagement can also help ignite dedication in employees.

“Employees must know that the company values them,” Fellman says. Talk to employees about their feelings or concerns. Ask questions to gauge their attitudes toward their coworkers, managers and the company as a whole.

“You can take almost any answer and divide it by three,” Fellman suggests. In other words, employees often restrain their answers to avoid conflict or sounding too negative.

Work ethic is yet another essential employee trait a good employer can influence. Think about an employee you feel doesn’t work hard enough. Could it be that the employee doesn’t understand what your definition of hard work is? “If that’s all it is, now it’s just a teaching opportunity about what a solid day’s work looks like in your company,” Fellman says.

An engagement-based conversation about work ethic could include comments such as:

  • I want you to …
  • I need you to …
  • I depend on you to …
  • I trust you to …

An effective approach is for the manager to first ask the employee to fill in those blanks. For instance, the employee wants the manager (or company) to treat them fairly. “This is probably a 15-minute conversation,” Fellman says. Then the manager can thank the employee for the feedback before turning the tables. It’s also helpful for the manager to have their comments prepared in writing so they can present them to the employee.

construction leadershipLeadership is More than Management

Building a championship team requires not only great employees, but also great managers.

Management is the process of setting and achieving organizational objectives. Good managers make sure everything is done correctly.

“Most people don’t think so, but good managers are micromanagers,” Fellman says. “Micromanagement is actually a good thing. What isn’t a good thing is over-management, which is management employees do not need. On the other hand, anything less than the right amount of management is under-management, which is a really bad thing.”

An effective manager is also a great leader. “Leaders don’t push all day long,” Fellman points out. “Leadership is more a matter of pulling.”

In other words, good leaders inspire employees to do the right things at the right times. There are different leadership styles that help accomplish this.

Quiet Leader – leads by example on how to deal with customers, suppliers and coworkers, and then wants subordinates to live up to those standards. This leadership style works best with well-documented job descriptions and processes.

Visionary Leader – proclaims to know where the team and company are trying to go, and rallies support from employees to help get there. This leadership style works best when the company vision is clearly understood. Rules and procedures can be less formal because the vision provides the framework for decision making.

Cheerleader – wants team to have fun but get the job done. Works best with employees who are also enthusiastic. Rules and procedures can be somewhat informal because this type of leader is never far from the action. It is still important to empower employees to also think and act because the cheerleader cannot be at the center of every decision.

How to Make Better Hires for Your Construction Business

Effective leaders exhibit patience, including when assembling teams. It is sometimes hard to resist the urge to hire the first decent candidate that comes along, especially when under pressure to staff up. However, this is where most hiring mistakes are made.

“Slow down and look for evidence of skills,” Fellman says. “Also, give candidates the opportunity to convince you that they have a good attitude.”

Slow down with respect to reference checks too. Fellman says most employers don’t bother to follow through, primarily because it can be time-consuming.

“A candidate’s past employers will often decline the opportunity to talk to you,” Fellman says. “But you should still ask for references. Many companies will still tell you about the good things, provided there are good things to be told. If a company won’t talk to you at all, it could be an indicator that there isn’t anything positive to say. It’s also a good idea to talk with a couple of the candidate’s past co-workers.”

Managers should also slow down during the interview process. In fact, Fellman says you might need to completely rethink it.

“Think about the things you are looking for in an employee, such as initiative or trust,” Fellman says. “Embed those concepts into the interview process. For example, ask a candidate how they define initiative. Once you come to an agreement on what it means, ask for an example of how they showed the kind of initiative your company is looking for. You could do this exercise with all of those employee characteristics we talked about earlier.”

In doing so, you have a much better chance of hiring the types of employees your company needs to thrive — whether those employees will be on more of a baseball-type team or football-type team.

This article was based on a presentation at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 by David Fellman, president of David Fellman & Associates. Fellman is a respected author and speaker on a variety of marketing and management topics. His book, “Listen to the Dinosaur,” is highly acclaimed by Selling Power magazine. Visit for more information.