Being part of a team is not exclusive to football or baseball.
For a builder or remodeler, there are lots of benefits to
having a good, solid team of employees who stick together and
help each other get the job done. Most employees like to be a
part of a team: The opportunity to enjoy the work and
participate in the success of the project is just as important
as bringing home that weekly paycheck.
Many remodelers tend to be control freaks. But you
can’t establish a team culture if you feel that you
must run the show 100% of the time. Establishing a team culture
isn’t necessarily the business owner’s job; a
lead carpenter or a production manager, for example, are
certainly prime candidates. But the person who assumes this
role must first ask him or herself, “Do I have the
ability to take on this responsibility?” If
you’re the team leader but have a tendency to throw
your recip saw at the slightest aggravation, what kind of
example are you setting? You can’t preach teamwork to
your employees and not live it yourself. Ask your crew what
teamwork means to them and incorporate that into your plan to
You’re in It
A team mentality dictates that every person counts. The leader
must foster the team’s understanding that everyone has
an effect on the culture. If one person comes in with a bad
attitude, it can jeopardize the whole team.
Initially, you may lose an employee or two — those
who buck the teamwork effort. But those are probably people
you’d want to get rid of anyway. You either pay now,
by weeding out the “weakest links,” or pay
over and over again by allowing a rotten apple to slowly
corrupt your crew — and your livelihood. If you
don’t get rid of the “wrong” people,
you just might lose the “right” people.
Don’t be hard on yourself if you have to let someone
go. There’s plenty of building going on, and
they’ll probably have another job by tomorrow. Once
you’ve established a team culture, led by an
open-minded, dedicated, honest, and natural leader —
whether it’s you, a lead carpenter, or someone else
— you’re less likely to have employee
turnover because everyone’s happily working together.
And happy employees will typically sell your company through
word of mouth. They might be out one night, swapping war
stories with a remodeling friend, and comment on the team
environment in the great company they work for. The friend may
say, “Hey, I wouldn’t mind working for a
company like that. Are there any openings?”
A Little Respect
With an established team culture, everyone shares a vision.
For example, all agree that workdays will run from 7:30 a.m. to
4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and no weekends. This is a
simple vision; you come to work, participate as a team, but
leave the job at 4:00 and go home. Fostering this vision,
however, requires sufficient staffing to prevent overwork,
stress, or the need for one worker to make up for
another’s absence. In a company culture, negative
stress is a bad thing.
Keep clients on the team.
Just as your company members respect one another and play on a
level field, your clients must also be treated as equals. When
working on a bathroom remodel for stay-at-home clients, do you
respect their lifestyle? If you need to shut the water off the
following day, do you call the clients to remind them and
suggest that they may want to take an earlier shower? If you
don’t, tension will surely arise.
Imagine that you’re discussing the details of a
project with a client when the phone rings, interrupting the
conversation. The client may answer, saying, “Can I
call you back? I have a worker here right now.” Maybe
you don’t like being described as their
“worker”— you’d prefer to
hear, “Can I call you back? I’m working with
the carpenter who’s remodeling my kitchen.”
Of course, you can’t control what your client says,
but you can set the tone by how you introduce the members of
your team. When you hold a preconstruction meeting with your
client, introduce your production team by saying,
“This is Mike. He’s going to be your lead
carpenter. I want you to feel comfortable with the remodeling
process. If you have any questions or concerns, you can feel
free to discuss them with him. He’s here to help
you.” You’ve laid the groundwork for mutual
Now, if Mike snaps at a team member in front of the homeowner,
or makes a derogatory comment about his company, he’s
not behaving professionally. Such behavior is not in line with
a team-culture philosophy. And he’s jeopardizing the
client’s confidence — what will that client
tell others about your company?
I grew up in this industry and worked in a family business. My
father believed that people should be slaves to their jobs.
I’ll never forget the day I closed on my first home:
The closing attorney assumed that my wife and I would go over
to see our new home immediately afterward. When I told him I
couldn’t because I had to be back on the job, he
asked, “What kind of boss do you have?” I
laughed and admitted it was my dad. But I agreed with the
attorney. People may not always remember what you say, but they
sure remember how you make them feel.
Good leaders respect their team members’ personal
lives and needs, within reason. Occasionally, I want to be able
to go to my children’s school during daytime events.
In my business, I can make that time. But, as the business
owner, I shouldn’t do so if I’m
simultaneously inflexible about my crew’s daily 7:30
to 4:00 routine. The company owner and team leader must show an
equal concern for the lives of their employees by giving them
the flexibility to look after their families and their personal
The team-family mentality is here to stay in my world. I try
to show my employees that I honestly care about them, beyond
the job they do for my company. And the paybacks are endless.
My staff is highly productive, plus we have low turnover, low
stress, and an ultimately successful company. If you or your
employees are currently unhappy at work, maybe it’s
related to the culture. What can you do about it? Your work
culture is essentially up to you.Shawn McCaddenis the president of Custom Contracting, Inc., an
employee-run remodeling company in Arlington, Mass., and a
frequent speaker at JLCLive.