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How to Know if You Have a Great Team, and What to do if You Don't

By Wayne Rivers

November 9, 2020

The most vexing problems in contracting companies are people problems.

Assembling a great team is the fundamental way to minimize your people problems and all the associated issues and headaches that cascade from them. 

Here are the seven checkpoints you can use to assess the quality of your team: 

  • You and your senior leaders make people the priority. Bob Street of McDevitt & Street required his leadership team to invest 20% of their time—that’s one day per week—in developing and caring for their people. That sent a clear signal that people were the priority for McDevitt & Street.
  • Your people drive financial performance. They know that they have many things they must accomplish. Among other things, they are to improve morale, stay on schedule, develop business, produce timely reports, etc., but they understand unequivocally that they are integral to driving profits to the bottom line for everyone's benefit.
  • Your people make decisions. They don't delegate upward; they don't require their senior leaders to make every decision. Instead, they make decisions at the lowest possible level in the organization so that the people closest to the problems are tackling them.
  • All bases are covered. Suppose you have great estimators, project managers, and superintendents, but your finance manager is always late with reports, or your business development executive isn't creating enough opportunities. If that’s the case, you don't have all your bases covered. Your goal should be to have great employees across all your key functions. Weak employees consume the time and efforts of others, and they create drag on the entire organization.
  • Great employees solve problems on their own. They dig in, gather resources, talk to other people in and outside the organization, and solve problems quickly and decisively. Problems solved quickly are problems solved cheaply.
  • Great teams are low maintenance. It's our belief that unmotivated people are going to stay that way. It's almost impossible to transform an unmotivated person into a go-getter. On some days you might be able to get 10% better performance out of such a person, but for the most part they're going to be mediocre performers. On the other hand, self-reliant, self-motivated people are likely to stay highly motivated and self-directed. Wouldn’t it be easier to start with the right raw material?
  • Great people are aligned with your organization’s mission, vision, and values. This is the key element. Everyone has a personal mission. It may not be written down, but it's in their hearts and minds. They see themselves doing things and going places in life. If they can see that they have alignment with the values, vision, and mission of your organization, that you’re capable of fostering their personal and professional growth, then it's a perfect fit.

Suppose you have determined that you are not in possession of a great team. How, then, do you upgrade?

  • Look in the mirror. You must be self-aware. If you're not trying to get better as a leader, as an executive, as a businessperson, if you are on cruise control, chances are good that the people in your organization see that, and they also adopt status quo thinking. They hear what you say about self-improvement and training, but they carefully watch what you actually do, and actions speak much, much louder than words. Always have an eye towards your own self-improvement.
  • Make people your priority. Make developing your team your highest priority. Go out and get the book Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street, and follow it as your guide. It is simply the best book ever written about recruiting, hiring, and onboarding talented people.
  • Get help! You can't get great talent without a great talent acquisition process. If your HR function is weak, go out and hire someone who can help you strengthen it. This action will pay for itself many times over!
  • Be willing to pay great people. Contractors are notoriously thrifty, but it makes sense that if you want world-class quality in today's competitive talent market you're going to have to deliver world class compensation. 
    Even the most talented entrepreneur will struggle beyond a certain point to grow and manage a company with a mediocre team. If you want to achieve the entrepreneurial nirvana of building a self-sustaining company and enjoying excellent work-life balance, you must surround yourself with great people. For great construction firms, it always comes down to people.