If you follow sports at all you are familiar with the cliché "on any given day." On any given day any team can win the game. For example, in the NFL even the worst team in the league can pull it all together one day and beat the best team in the league. This can happen on any given day. People like to extend sports analogies to business. We hear them all the time. The Project Manager is the quarterback. We fumble the handoff of information from office to field. At the crew level we conduct a daily huddle. And on any given day the project team can score a touchdown.
The only problem here is that construction is not an "any given day" kind of business. The analogy fails us. Think back to the best team you were on. It might have been a high school state championship, it might have been a musical production, a mission trip, or a challenging construction project. What were the characteristics that made that a great team? Yes, you won, but why? Why did this particular collection of individuals form into a team, a winning team? People will generally tell you that some of the characteristics of a great team are trust, a clear goal, open communication, inspiring coach or leader, fun, determination, people were able to do (and did) what they were supposed to do and mutual reliance. This list is not complete but you get the point. The next question is on a grading scale of A to F how would you grade that best team of yours on each of these characteristics. Probably, because this is your best team, you will rank them all "A's."
Now, take a look at the team you are on today. Actually, you are on several teams but your company, or a construction project, are two that probably rank pretty high in importance for you. Looking at this team how would you grade the characteristics mentioned earlier? Unless this is one of your best teams, in which case we would be looking at A's, you are probably looking at a mix of grades. On any given day any of these scores can be an A. One day you might be looking at As in trust and communication but not in fun and clear goal. The next day you might score As in clear goal and communication but not in determination and mutual reliance. On any given day the team can get an A in any of those areas and that is the problem.
Construction success does not come from an any given day performance. Success is an every single day activity. Your best team scored A's every single day and that is the standard we all must strive for today. The stakes are higher today than they were for your high school musical, but for some reason we accept less than superior performance in all areas. It wasn't easy to win that state championship and it will not be easy to achieve all A's on the project you are working on today. It is worth it though. Not only will this level of performance yield a high level of satisfaction but it will yield superior results for all team members. Isn't that the point? Then why are firms and projects performing at an any given day level rather than the elusive every single day level?
It boils down to a lack of two things; trust and respect. And these two critical characteristics start with the leader of the group. If we combine all the characteristics of successful teams listed earlier we get to group culture. Whether we are looking at corporate culture or the culture of a project, research shows that 50-70% of the culture of a group comes from the leader of the group. If you are reading this then you are a leader in your firm. So, when you look around your work group, or your project, and it isn't scoring A's every single day the next place to look is in the mirror.
The owner is hard to deal with, maybe you are too. The engineer will not make a decision, maybe she doesn't have the documentation you are supposed to give her. The subs will not work fast enough, maybe you haven't coordinated the job well enough. The estimators have no idea what it costs to build, maybe they aren't getting good cost information in the first place. Employees aren't motivated, maybe the way you treat them is demeaning and condescending. And so it goes.
The glory days from that great team are history. That doesn't mean you cant create new ones with new players. The fundamental building blocks are there; people and processes coming together to create an environment of trust and respect.
Wally Adamchik is the President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, a national leadership consulting firm based in Raleigh, NC. You can visit the website at www.beafirestarter.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, No Yelling (www.noyelling.net) is available online, and was selected as one of the best business reads for summer 2007 by Entrepreneur Magazine.