Learning How to Become a Better Team

Listening to your team, doing special things for them, will help build a positive company culture.

Learning How to Become a Better Team

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My daughter was listening to music the other day and a song came on by Miranda Lambert called “The House that Built Me.”  The subject of the song is about the house she grew up in and what she remembers about her childhood in that house. It made me think about the years I’d spent “growing up” in the plumbing industry and it made me grateful for the culture I had grown up in. I often wonder what it was about the culture that got me to stay with a company for more than 23 years.

A friend of mine convinced me to come to work for a plumbing company in Portland, Oregon, back in the late 1990s. He and I served together in the Air Force, and we had a strong friendship, but still, plumbing? Our shop was a dusty old building, with terrible parking, on the outskirts of the city. It was in that shop that I learned how plumbing works and how to treat customers to get them to call me back. I became a drain tech and learned to operate a hydro jetter. I also learned how to sell repairs and other services that our company offered. 

As time went on, my skills improved and so did my responsibilities. When our building sold, and we moved to a larger facility, I was a bit sad. I found myself driving by the old place when I was in the area and feeling nostalgic. It was in that company that I became part of a dysfunctional family and I gained great respect for each of my plumbing brothers who helped me hone my skills. The words “company culture” weren’t in my vocabulary back then, but when I hear the phrase now, I’m instantly taken back to the days when I still had hair and I was serving customers in East Portland. Even though I now sit behind a desk to earn a living, part of me is still running service and solving problems for customers that I had gotten to know over the years. 

At the very beginning, I realized I was blessed to have strong managers that communicated the goals and direction of the company. I also found where I fit in with those goals and encountered great leaders that would drop what they were doing to come to your aid. They didn’t come to fix whatever it was that you were struggling with, they were there to help you figure out solutions to the problems yourself. As a result of that kind of leadership, I knew where I was going, and I developed the skills to be successful.

INCLUDE THE EMPLOYEES

Our employees were an active part in developing our culture. That doesn’t mean that we ran the company, it means that we were encouraged to give our input on many aspects of the company operations. We had “key person” meetings. In those meetings, we invited technicians to attend and to give their input on a variety of subjects. This got information flowing in both directions, not just from management to the field. These meetings proved to be very valuable when it came to problem solving.

In those early years, we were dispatched via two-way radio and a pager. When there were conversations taking place on the radio, any plumber or drain tech in the company could hear. Younger techs would occasionally run into trouble on jobs, and they would ask dispatch if there was anyone in the area. Of course, anyone listening knew what was going on and those that were close would show up on the job to help. Sometimes three to four techs in service trucks would show up to add their input. Management always encouraged us to help one another for two reasons. First, it improved the skills of the younger technicians and second, it built teamwork. We became a stronger company as a result.

BUILDING THE CULTURE

The days of the two-way radio are long gone, but you can still build your company culture to be one that your plumbers and technicians won’t want to leave. Always keep open lines of communication with the field. And the most important part of communication is the listening part. Take time to meet with key employees, both from the field and from the office. Hold regular meetings and set aside part of those meetings so that field employees can discuss any technical issues they run into. Chances are, someone in your company has run into the same issue. Let the plumbers and technicians help each other solve technical problems. The bonds formed from those conversations will make your company stronger.

Host company picnics and buy gifts for the employee’s kids. Dress like Santa and have a Christmas party. Celebrate your employees and their families. It’s the families that miss their loved one on long, on-call nights. Take time to recognize the strong support system of hard workers who make your company grow. If you have an employee that’s going above and beyond, reward them in a meeting in front of the rest of their peers. Don’t forget your office staff. They deserve to be recognized as well.

Be creative in how you build a strong company culture. If you take the time to build this vital aspect of your company, you’ll be happier, your employers will enjoy coming to work and word will spread about what a great place your company is to work.  



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