Building a Winning Construction Team

Posted April 28th, 2022

A strong team is one of the best investments you can make in your construction business. Competing priorities, hard deadlines, physical labor — all of it is easier when you are all working together as a team. A strong team will rise to challenges, overcome difficulties together, and GROW together. Surprisingly, building a winning team isn’t just about hiring the person with the most experience. You have to sit down and plan out your team building strategy with intention.

And it starts with a little introspection.

A tale of two owners.

Mike and Joe are both construction business owners. Mike runs a mid-size commercial and residential HVAC company, while Joe’s specialty is concrete. They’ve known each other for years, have helped each other over their careers, and even get their families together on the weekends.

Construction team: Building a Winning Team

One afternoon, over beers and burgers in the backyard, Mike tells Joe he’s planning to put more focus on commercial HVAC installations, and that he’s excited to roll out the plan to his team.

“They’ll hate it,” says Joe. “They hate anything that sounds like more work.”

Mike frowns. “Not my team. They’re usually onboard with our goals because they know it’s good for them, too.”

Joe shrugs. “I can’t get my guys to do anything but fight.”

Mike pauses for a minute, then looks Joe in the eye before saying, “Sounds like the problem might be with you.”

Read more about Becoming a Purpose-Driven Leader.

Building a winning construction team starts with you.

Joe assumes that his guys won’t work hard for him because there is something wrong with them. The truth is most people will work hard if they believe in the goal, if they can see their own growth in that goal, and if their leader inspires and empowers them to believe in themselves.

To build a construction team that wins, the first step is defining yourself as a leader. You need to know yourself—your values and principles and purpose—so that you can look for those same values in others. You don’t all have to be exactly the same (diversity is an important part of a healthy and productive team) but you should have a bedrock of shared values to stand on.

Mike encourages Joe to get a journal and answer these questions. (And we encourage you to do this exercise, too!)

  • What do I believe in?
  • What do I stand for?
  • Am I living up to the standard I want from myself and others?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What kind of culture do I want to work in?
  • What is my purpose in going to work every day?

Joe sits with these questions for a few days, and ultimately comes to a powerful realization. His core values at home—respect, honesty, ownership and giving 100% to every job—are not alive in the shop. He hasn’t been setting the standard he wants to see from the men and women on his team.

Building a Winning Construction Team: Team Stacking Hands Talking Core Values

“I’m going to talk about our core values at our next company meeting,” Joe tells Mike the next time he sees him.

“That’s awesome,” says Mike. “Once you’ve got your people with you on your core values, you can start setting goals that all of you can get excited about.”

“Isn’t making more money the goal for everybody?” asks Joe, half-joking.

“Ah, young Jedi,” says Mike. “You have much to learn.”

Read more about Making Core Values Part of Your Business Strategy.

Setting goals with purpose.

Without a purpose behind your goal for more money, your team’s enthusiasm for hard work will fade like a flame under glass. And without a purpose for that new revenue, chances are you won’t make the necessary changes in your organization that will make the money feel more impactful.

Goals need a purpose or they’re not really goals. The adage that “a goal without a plan is just a wish” is true, but it is also true that a goal without a purpose is just a task to finish. It doesn’t inspire or motivate.

Once you have a purpose for your growth goal, your next step is to lay out the roadmap for how you and your team will reach it. If you don’t have all the answers, that’s okay. That’s actually great — bringing your team into the planning process can help them buy into the plan earlier and with greater intent.

Lastly, make sure that your goal is big enough that each of your team members can see their goals fitting inside yours. Joe knows that Natasha, one of his estimators, is really interested in accounting. He thinks about how he could use some of the additional revenue to help her get certified in accounting. It would be great to have someone in the office who understood cash flow better than he does . . . and it would give her an exciting new role in the company.

Read more about Setting Purpose-Driven Goals.

Hire what you can’t do.

Mike and Joe see each other at a networking event a few weeks later, and Joe shares how excited he is about the recent changes at his company. “My only problem,” he says, “is all of these changes need to be processes, systemized, so that we do them every time the same way every time.”

Mike nods. “You need an Operations person.”

Joe rolls his eyes. “Do you have one?”

Mike nods again. He winks at Joe and answers, “I do. And a CPA. And a Marketing Coordinator.” He looks at his friend and offers him this advice, “Hire for the things you’re not good at.”

Joe considers this. And you should too.

Nobody is an expert at everything—that’s why they’re called experts. And some of us have personality traits or inherent gifts that make us naturally better at some tasks than others. Listen—not being good at something doesn’t make you weak. Not hiring great people to do the things you’re not good at? That will make your company weak.

Joe hires an Operations Director, and a CPA. The Operations Director puts together a book of processes and a training schedule for new team members. Now things are running smoothly and scaling the company’s growth becomes easier.

Bonus — Joe is delighted when the CPA says she’d be happy to mentor Natasha so she can take over more of the day-to-day financial management of the company.

Joe is delighted when the CPA says she'd be happy to mentor Natasha so she can take over more of the day-to-day financial management of the company.

“Now you’re cooking with gas,” Mike says. “Time to start hiring new recruits. Have you identified who on your team will mentor them?”

Joe pauses before answering. “I was thinking about Nate. He’s been with me the longest. But now that I’m thinking about it, he can be a bit of a jerk. I don’t think he represents the way I want new people to behave.”

Mike claps his friend on the shoulder. “Now you’re getting the idea.”

Start from a foundation of teamwork.

It’s a natural assumption that your senior members can and will train new recruits, but that only works if your senior members are good teachers and good examples of your company’s culture.

That starts, of course, by hiring people who align with your core values. And if someone who is already on your team becomes a bad apple in the bunch, you may even have to let them go. That’s a tough pill to swallow, but culture and core values are too important to success to let someone ruin all your hard work.

Once you have your senior construction team aligned around your company’s core values and mission or purpose, the next step is identifying who among them is the best choice to mentor new team members. Not every rock star worker likes the idea of teaching others, or even has the aptitude to do so effectively.

Joe thinks about his team, watches them interact with each other and customer, and finally decides that Thomas, who has only been with the company for two years but is definitely a rock star employee, is the right person to train new people. Thomas is thrilled at the chance to represent the company, and turns out to be a natural mentor and teacher.

Thomas also gives Joe a piece of feedback that turns out to be a gamechanger. “Some of the new people that have been paired up with Nate say he’s really hard to work with.”

Joe shakes his head. Nate, a great worker, is becoming a real problem on the team. “Why aren’t they saying anything to me?”

Thomas laughs. “You know how it is. They’re afraid.”

Joe sits with this for a while, and realizes he still has work to do to build his winning team.

Create a culture of communication.

Toxic culture behaviors like bullying and gossiping destroy companies from within. Your best people will leave if they feel like they’re being disrespected, and it will become harder and harder to find new team members.

Culture is a hiring differentiator, and it is also part of a health and wellness strategy at your company. When people feel like they can’t talk to their peers or their leaders, they bottle up stress and hide real issues that can affect their performance, sometimes even their safety.

To change the culture at your company, you need to model good communication behaviors. That means actively listening when others are speaking, and speaking from a place of confident vulnerability. It means focusing on solutions rather than blame when something goes wrong, and taking responsibility for the actions of all of your construction team members.

Joe meets with Nate and has a frank, honest conversation with him. Nate shares that he’s struggling with depression, that he and his wife have been fighting, and that he feels like he should be doing more for his family.

Joe has known Nate for years, but this is the first time they’ve ever had this kind of conversation. He recommends a counselor for Nate, and they schedule weekly check-ins. Finally, Joe and Nate build a plan for Nate to become a mason and an estimator.

Joe knows Nate is a good person and a great worker. He invests in him because he believes in him.

And that is the final lesson in building a winning construction team — invest in them.

Invest in your construction team.

Toward the end of the year, Mike and Joe get together and talk about all the changes, successes, setbacks, and growth both their companies experienced.

“I’m taking the team to a zipline course and then out for dinner,” says Joe. “They’ve busted their asses this year, and they deserve acknowledgment of their hard work.”

Mike looks at him over his beer. “I’m impressed. Actually,” he says, and looks a little sheepish, “I hadn’t even thought of that. We usually just have a little champagne toast in the shop. But they deserve more this year.”

Joe smiles at his friend. “The student has become the master.”

The reality is that Joe has already been investing in his team, by including their goals in his company’s goals and helping them find paths to fulfill those goals. Natasha is going to school for accounting and is now full-time running the books at his company, and Nate is like a whole new person. He’s kept two superstar employees because he took the time to invest in them as people.

Your construction team needs and deserves acknowledgement, both as a group and individually. Some folks are fine with a “Good job” once in a while, and others may prefer a more formal recognition. If you’re spending time investing in them individually, you’ll know the right strategy for your team.

You can’t underestimate the power of the little things. Coffee and bagels may seem like nothing, but it lets your construction team know you were thinking of them. Gas cards, company lunches, even something as seemingly small as a birthday card—all of these are little investments that go a long way toward making your team feel and act like a team. 

Gas cards, company lunches, even something as seemingly small as a birthday card—all of these are little investments that go a long way toward making your team feel and act like a team. 

Joe gets the proof of his new company strategy when a client tells him, “Everyone at your company is helpful, friendly, and positive. We always know we’re in good hands with you guys. Even if something does go wrong—and let’s be honest, it always does in construction—we know we can count on your team to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

That’s the biggest win of all in Joe’s book. And of course, he shares the email with his team. It’s a win they all deserve.

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