How to Better Define Unity
What that means for the success of your team

Humans are pack animals. Sure, there are always those who live in solitude, interacting little with the outside world, but most of humanity seeks community, conversation and connectivity. Sports teams are a great example of this.

For instance, coaches work to instill a deep sense of unity across the entire team, which is often subdivided into smaller groups, such as offense, defense, infield, outfield, pitchers, etc.

Even among these smaller units, there can exist a deep level of camaraderie. Look at how many college football teams have group incentives for units like the defensive squad. While the scoreboard recognizes the ultimate measure of success, players celebrate the small victories that occur through turnovers, fumbles, etc.

This same dynamic can be observed throughout many different organizations. Whether it is the sense of pride shared among field leaders or departments within an organization, there always appears to be a need for individuals to identify with a cause, group or team.

There exists a deep-rooted, primal need for belonging that helps individuals craft their identities. Ironically, it is that need to be part of a tribe that shapes one’s individuality. Leaders may notice that this search for identity can create some hindering behaviors, some of which include:

  • Identifying as a group rather than a team—An employee having stronger loyalty to the estimating department than the company as a whole is like a defensive unit on a football team focusing more on their statistics than the overall score of the game.
  • Identifying with geographic location—Many organizations have satellite offices, and it is these satellites that create an identity, often shunning that of the home office. Regardless of distance, the local brand hardly resembles that of the other offices, creating an alter ego entirely.
  • Identifying as a business unit competitor—Service department versus construction; medical versus commercial; private versus public. Businesses align with their markets and service offerings. However, as groups use data to help support their strategy, there can be a tendency to look across the aisle, creating angst and competition that breeds dissent. It is as if the offense and defense on the same team are pit against one another in a fight that no one wins.

As much as the construction industry relies on teams to manage projects, lead business units and drive customer value, it is these same teams that require careful management, integration and coordination. Without diligence, individuals cling to the wrong vestiges, creating and perpetuating an almost toxic culture. A good example of this is something as simple as the location of an employee’s desk, cubicle or office.

For instance, a leader might place members of a team in offices that appear to satisfy an operational objective, such as estimation or project management. So, an entire department is relegated to one portion of the building, maybe even to a single floor. From this geographic identity, an interesting subculture begins to form, and aberrant behaviors begin to manifest themselves, as communication wanes within a leadership vacuum.

What started as a smart, logistical maneuver to situate business teams, becomes mired in questions, which often begin with, “Why are we here and everyone else is there?” Some might describe this as petty, but anything that distracts from the prime strategic directive and greater team unity can become a cultural roadblock. Even the brightest star on the team can succumb to the “noise” when there is more negative than positive communication.

If the organizational leaders are not leading the team and driving proactive communication, that void is filled with negativity, and counterculture is fostered by a faction that is no longer aligned. As dramatic as this sounds, it illustrates how a team’s identity must be continually cultivated by the company’s leaders.

Departmental Synergy

Goals must be in alignment at all levels. Business units that lack cohesiveness with the overarching company vision create an awkward dynamic that breeds poor behavior. Consider a company with a service group and a construction group. One metric that transcends both units is profitability. However, when compared side by side, there can be a sizeable divide between the two benchmarks. Broadcasting this data internally runs the risk of creating a chasm as each unit questions the efficacy of the other. This is not to say corporations should avoid sharing information, but it is imperative to create a program that translates the results in a way that makes sense. Consider a mechanical contractor business with both a service and a construction group. Simply measuring something like gross margin—which, by all accounts, favors the service arm—creates a distorted sense of relation and allows for finger pointing. Rather, it is important to measure based on something like customer service, which creates more camaraderie and less division.

Competitive Fuel

While this may sound completely contrary, find ways to harness competitive spirit in healthy ways. The same metric described earlier—customer service—could easily be channeled and measured to provide fuel for constructive competition internally. No one can claim it compares apples and oranges or that there is any unfair advantage. Another idea would be to pair team members from opposite departments as a composite score to promote cross selling, idea generation and overall unity.

Ultimately, the offense and defense line up on opposite sides at different times in the game, but it is powerful to have the team support you as you come back to the sidelines.

Family & Accountability

With such a preponderance of family in the construction industry, it is no wonder that so many companies characterize one of their strengths as being “like a family.” However, there is always a fine line between creating and enforcing accountability within these companies. Many individuals believe accountability is in direct opposition to family, but this is just not true. Even in a small family, there are responsibilities and, ultimately, accountability (e.g., weekly chores). In fact, one might say, there is more accountability in a family than a company. Never confuse family with a lack of structure, accountability and responsibility. Rather, focus on instilling personal connections that allow for constructive feedback, growth and mutual success through both familial relationships and the accountabilities that come with them.

Whether employees commiserate about their shared experience or build each other up constructively, largely depends on how the leadership communicates vision and strategy.