Are team away days useful in construction?

Effective leadership teams require constant care and attention, says Dave Stitt. Don’t expect to achieve that magically in a team-building day
Construction team-building day
Successful leadership teams are essential to construction project delivery (image: Dreamstime)

In the early days of my coaching in construction, I only had a few days’ worth of exercises to put the participants through and limited insights to share. So I focused on project launch team away days. These were one off workshops, that quickly got the team together, put faces to names, produced an action plan and a charter and people left fairly happy.

There was a high demand and few ‘team coaches’ out there. I was busy and after three or four years had mastered ‘happy clappy’ workshops.

Though something was missing. My associate warned me that a one-off, one-day workshop without proper follow-through was really just entertainment. “And we are not in the entertainment business Dave,” he said.

"A one-off, one-day workshop without proper follow-through is really just entertainment"

My feedback scores were mostly nines and tens although, deep down, I knew people were leaving the room cracking on with their day job as normal and ignoring their action plan and charter. They were good for getting people together, breaking the ice and putting faces to names but they didn’t need me for that and my mission was bigger than that.

From that point onwards I resolved to develop a process that enables a collection of hard-working individuals to become an effective team and deliver their business results – from start to finish. Now, many years in the making this tried and tested process is called DeliverStart2Finish™.

Team coaching in construction

I work with big project leadership teams, the six or so people representing the user, client and contractor right at the top of the project.

These individuals don’t get to choose each other. They are thrown together and are expected somehow to provide joined-up leadership to the thousands of people who are managing and delivering the project.

As team coach, I enable them to establish and sustain themselves as a leadership team.

‘Sustain’ is really important. I hear people say “we’re a good team” as if, once established, the team becomes a static and fixed entity. In fact, a team is a complex, dynamic entity, a living system that is either growing or descending into disorder. Usually, it’s the latter, and when disorder sets in at the top of the project, it quickly spreads throughout it.

In his book Systems Thinking and Other Dangerous Habits, Bill Dettmer states:

“The Second Law of Thermodynamics specifies the existence of entropy – the tendency of any system to move towards disorder or randomness, absent of affirmative efforts to replace lost energy or otherwise hold the system together. In the same way human organisations can’t operate on automatic pilot. Constant effort and attention is required to sustain: sense of mission, morale, harmony, teamworking, leadership.”

Psychic entropy is a natural condition for humans, we lose focus and become confused. The same applies with teams, and the impact is multiplied.

“Constant effort and attention” – this is what I focus on with leadership teams, enabling them to combat entropy so they can continuously provide joined-up and effective leadership.

Construction has a lot of entropy

I believe things can be better for construction people, and when things are better for construction people the construction industry is better.

Effective leadership makes things better and also enables people to make things better for themselves.

My work with big project leadership teams is scaled by their work, their leadership.

However, there is a lot of construction going on and there’s a lot of entropy. Faced with the pandemic two years ago, I decided to move all my coaching online. Customers tell me it’s better online. Some leaders, however, want the coaching to be in-person, in a conference room.

So, I have created a DIY version of DeliverStart2Finish™ in which I remotely coach the leader to do it themselves. They facilitate the process with their team in the conference room, and together we make sure it works.

My next evolution is to mentor new team coaches so they can coach within a framework and are not bound by having only one day’s worth of stuff to do with the team. I really don’t want to encourage the start of those happy-clappy workshops again.

A chartered civilengineer and professional certified coach, Dave Stitt FCIOB coaches construction company boards and project teams, and is the author of Deep and Deliberate Delegation and Coach for Results, each available on Amazon.

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