Bradley Kimberlin, Columnists, V4I5

Building Teamwork on the Shop Floor

By now you’ve improved your inventory and ordering process, so it’s been a while since you’ve run out of anything. Good for you! Hopefully now the builders won’t be so upset with you all the time. But it still seems like something is missing.

You don’t feel like the shop is a solid team, working together (except when they gang up against you). There seems to be tension between the shop and office and you don’t like that.

How can you create a solid team that works together? Following are a few ideas to implement into your shop.


To have a great team, there needs to be a leader. As a leader, it is your job to cast the vision for what needs to be accomplished, provide the necessary tools to complete the tasks, and be decisive.

There are a lot of decisions that you must make, every day, but you need to realize that those are your decisions to make. Don’t try to lead by consensus or push off responsibility onto your workers. It is not healthy to burden your workers with a weight that’s not theirs.

If cash flow is tight, don’t use sentences like, “We would do that, but there’s no money.” Or say, “When you start writing the checks, you can make the decisions.” This only frustrates the employee because it’s not their responsibility to manage cash flow or make business decisions. You’re also sending the message that maybe they should go out and do their own thing, so they can make their own decisions. Ever wonder why so many builders spin off to start their own business?


If a forklift breaks down and you forget to call in to get it fixed, don’t get upset with the team when things aren’t getting done as quickly as you want because there’s only one working forklift. They told you it was broken, you were too busy to take care of it—that’s on you.

Sure, it’s frustrating when you realize that things aren’t happening like they need to because you forgot to do something, but don’t take that frustration out on the team. Language like, “Just figure it out,” or “Tough, I’m busy,” shows them that you value your time more than theirs. Don’t be surprised when they start reciprocating the same type of language and actions.


Be on the lookout for ways to acknowledge your team members. Has one of the builders figured out a quick way to hang siding by himself? Acknowledge it publicly. Showcase his method in your weekly meeting (you have one, right?) and encourage others to try it.

Ask for ideas from everyone on ways to improve shop processes, organization, and so on. Some of the ideas won’t work, but don’t shoot them down publicly. Be open minded and willing to try something. If it’s not working, they’ll most likely tell you themselves. Give your team members latitude to be creative in their approach.


Whether literally or figuratively, be willing to jump in and help make your team a success.

Have someone who’s trying to finish a building before the weekend? Cut the OSB for him while he sets rafters. Don’t step around trash, pick it up. Take 30 minutes a week and personally clean up some neglected corners. Did a new guy install a window upside down? Don’t just point it out and leave—grab a hammer and caulk gun and help him fix it.

Your willingness to jump in and help will rub off and start slowly changing the culture. If you just want to sit in the office and bark orders, don’t be surprised when you get bit.


This idea is my favorite and probably the one where you can see the quickest results. Find a local community need outside of your normal circle of influence and volunteer as a team.

For example, contact your local Habitat for Humanity and volunteer on one of their projects. One time, a shop that I was working with shut down for the day and framed an entire house on a local Habitat project. Not only was the satisfaction of doing something like that as a team amazing, it accelerated the project by about six weeks, since normal Habitat volunteers are unskilled. The amazing thing to me was how the workers talked about it for the next several months and would ask when we were going to do another project like that. It’s important that they volunteer their time to do this, but have the company provide lunch and drinks and be generous. Have management go along and make it a fun time. Take pictures and post them in the employee break room.

Another example is allowing them to use the shop for a volunteer project. One time, a worker lost his home and was going to build a 16 by 40 to live in. I allowed them to use the shop at no cost and everyone came and pitched in and built the building for him in a day.

A third example is a builder whose brother died suddenly, leaving behind medical and funeral expenses. The workers decided to come in on a Saturday and build several buildings and donate the money that they would have been paid to his expenses. Be willing to facilitate and allow projects such as this. I decided to increase their impact and told them we would do a matching contribution up to $1,000. It ended up being almost $3,000 that they were able to contribute through using their skills as builders.


They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and it seems to be true. Once a quarter or after a particularly busy or successful week, buy lunch for the team. You could order in pizza or grill fajitas. Whatever you do, get extra and be generous. It’s best if it’s a meal you help prepare. It sends a strong, positive message of caring when they see you out there flipping burgers for them.

On a long, hot summer afternoon, go get ice cream sandwiches. It doesn’t cost a lot, and you get five minutes of camaraderie as everyone stands around eating one. Stay and participate. You’ll get insights you wouldn’t get otherwise.

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t see change overnight. The current culture has been set for a while and won’t change right away. Use these ideas as a springboard to develop ways of building teamwork in your shop that works for you.

Until next time, Be Excellent!

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