Tips for Building an Effective Construction Team

Our business revolves around designing and selling top-notch kitchen and bathroom remodels. Our trade associations sponsor design competitions and give recognition to the designers. The attention this generates from the public is an extremely positive and productive undertaking for our industry.

The function of actually executing these designs into remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, some involving additions, normally includes many more people and a great deal more time than the design itself takes. Successful projects are executed by a team of people, including the designer, and that team transforms the designer’s vision into a finished project that will provide years of pride and satisfaction for the client.

Good construction teams can take many forms, but they will all consist of some essential members. These members will normally include the designer, a project manager and necessary trades people. In some cases, multiple functions will be performed by one individual – for instance, the designer may function as the project manager. There are also some necessary staff support functions that will also be required.

In this month’s column, we will look at each of these and how they must interact to successfully execute a winning project.

Overseeing the Work
In the typical design/build remodeling firm, the designer/salesperson is responsible for developing the initial relationship with the client. While there are several ways that clients may choose a designer or firm, one of the most important long-term responsibilities of that designer/firm is to develop and maintain a referral base. While it goes without saying that the whole team has a hand in ensuring customer satisfaction, the designer should have an ongoing program to stay in touch with prior clients and make sure that they become a source of future referrals.

With a new client, the designer must accomplish three things. He or she must sell this potential customer on the firm and its ability to meet the client’s needs. Secondly, the designer needs to be able to help this client identify and define the essentials of the project from the client’s standpoint. In other words, what does the client want to do; why does the client want to do it, and what is a rough idea of what the budget might be? The designer can then work with the client to reconcile these needs and design a project that can meet these factors.

Each designer will bring a unique set of skills and strengths to the table, so you should create a model of the team that allows some flexibility in the exact role that each member will play. While you need to make sure that the teams you put together for each project have members with all of the requisite skills, the structure of this team should not be so rigid as to preclude valuable input as the project progresses.

It is assumed that the designers in your firm are there because of their ability to design, relate to clients and sell jobs. For this reason, it only makes sense to shift the tasks of day-to-day management of the project to someone else to allow your designers/salespeople the freedom to work with additional clients.

Ideally, your project managers should be strong in organization, have the ability to look at a project and anticipate what is going to be needed and done. It’s important that this individual be detail oriented since he or she will be responsible for material ordering and coordination of schedules. Since the relationship with the client is usually turned over from the designer to the project manager, the project manager should also have good people and communication skills.

Depending upon how you have organized your field work, the project manager may need to provide the construction knowledge to direct and manage your sub-contractors and field labor. If you have job foreman or lead carpenter in the field, the project manager will need to understand the job flow and process, but not necessarily be deeply knowledgeable on technical issues of structure, plumbing, electrical, etc. If, on the other hand, your project manager is directly responsible for supervising labor and sub-contractors, such knowledge is much more important.

If your organization has several projects going on concurrently, you will likely have more than one project manager. When this is the case, the scheduling process will become much more complex with the necessity of sharing labor and subs. If you establish a system and procedures for reconciling the labor needs of each project manager, they can probably work together to allocate the work.

As mentioned above, a necessary function of any construction team is the supervision and coordination of the work being done in the field by the tradespeople. There are several different approaches to this function. As mentioned previously, the project manager may perform this function. Another approach to field supervision is to have a lead carpenter or job foreman work with the project manager to provide the technical expertise. A third option to achieve this sort of supervision is by way of a production manager working with the project managers to provide the interface with the field work.

Finally, it’s essential to find the right people to actually perform the physical tasks that must be accomplished to bring the project to fruition. Here, there are a couple of rules that should be followed in order to assure success over the long haul. First, look for people who have the experience and references to give you a reasonable expectation that the work will meet your firm’s expectations. Check references and have several members of your construction team interview potential sub-contractors or employees. Secondly, once you find a sub or employee that fits your team, make sure you keep that person happy and committed to your firm.

Staff Support
The construction team we have described will provide the operational tools to accomplish the objective. In order to allow that team to focus on the tasks, it’s important to have a certain amount of staff support in the form of marketing, drafting, accounting, etc. To the extent that our construction team can be freed from direct responsibility for these functions, the team will be more productive with primary tasks.

It is no accident that the terms “team” and “teamwork” are used so extensively when discussing business organizations. Successful teams are made up of individuals who are talented at their particular roles and are supportive of others on their team. A successful construction team is no different.