How to Lead a Crew
Written by Jason Schroeder
January 16, 2022
Schroeder has talked a lot in these lessons about the role you play as a foreman in ensuring your workers have the materials, tools, equipment, and information they need to succeed.
These are clear concepts, but how do they play out on a practical day-to-day level? What does effectively leading your crew actually look like, from the moment your people step onto the job site?
What your crew needs.
According to Schroeder, here’s what your workers should see when they arrive onsite:
- good wayfinding (i.e., directions around the site are clearly marked and easily visible)
- a decent place to park
- clean bathrooms
- a place to eat lunch
- if they smoke, a place to smoke
- a place to wash their hands
This may seem intuitive, but think about all the job sites you've been on during your career. Did each one of them have each of these items? It's a safe bet that some — or even many — lacked at least one of these. And it's an equally safe bet that while you were working on that site, you didn't exactly feel motivated to do your best work.
“We need to make sure these basics are taken care of,” Schroeder said. “And even though you’re at the foreman level, you do not stop squawking until your workers have nice, clean bathrooms.”
With these basics provided, start your crew’s day with a 30-minute crew preparation huddle. And after you teach, mentor, and guide them in that huddle? “You let them organize their space, get their tools ready, shake out their equipment, review their information, and fill out their pre-task plans and safety paperwork,” Schroeder said.
But you’re not finished yet. Other things your workers need for the day include:
- the materials they’re using — delivered on time
- not so much material that it gets in their way
- the information for the area they’re working in
- a clean and open work area
- a consistent group of coworkers
- quality and safety expectations
- a project team that can answer any questions they have on the go
For your crew, these all add up to a safe, stable work environment. But if you don’t provide these things, Schroeder said: “You’ll have lots of starts and stops interrupting your production, and [you'll cause] additional safety concerns."
See, know, and act as a group.
Schroeder emphasized that everyone should see as a group, know as a group, and act as a group. What does this mean, and — perhaps more importantly — as a foreman, how do you accomplish this?
No more escapism
Schroeder had this piece of advice for foremen everywhere: no more escaping the job site.
“The biggest problem I see is escapism. We all have problems, but typically, in the construction industry, it’s the foremen who do a lot of escaping.”
What does he mean by this? “Stop going to Home Depot. Stop hopping into your truck and hauling off to wherever. You need to be on the project site taking care of your workers. Need materials? Delegate the task to someone.”
This is because, Schroeder noted, when you leave the project site, you’re abdicating leadership.
“We need you to be here, onsite, engaging with your crew,” he said.
The toy soldier analogy.
While you don’t want to compare your people to toys, it can be handy to use the toy soldier analogy to help you envision the overall picture.
Let’s say you have a group of old-fashioned, clockwork toy soldiers. You stand each one up and make sure they’re headed in the right direction. And then you wind them up and send them off.
According to Schroeder, you need to look at leading a crew in the same way. “Every worker should be heading in the right direction, at the right pace,"
he said. “You need them to be standing up, like the toy soldiers, meaning they have all the key things we’ve talked about — the fulfillment, the success, the information, and the training. And then you wind them up with all the proper resources and support.”
How to give effective direction.
Another vital step for successful leadership, Schroeder noted, is providing effective direction — something that's substantially different from just barking an order.
As he noted, a typical foreman who needs a column moved might say, “Hey, you, go move that column over there,” and that would be the extent of it. However, this approach leaves a lot of room for ambiguity — which can lead to accidents, errors, and rework.
Instead of issuing vague directives, he said, give very specific and precise instruction. Rather than saying "Move this column from here to there," start by telling one of your team members which forklift to use and asking them to inspect the equipment and fill out the equipment checklist first.
“And then you turn to another worker, and you say, I need you to do the rigging,” Schroeder said. “I want you to inspect it thoroughly, and make sure we rigged it properly. And you’re going to need to flag him over there. And I want you to make sure the column goes exactly in this spot so we don’t have to move it again. And when you’re done, please park the forklift over there.”
“We don't need foremen and superintendents who just point fingers and say, 'go do that.' We need coaches. We need mentors. We need leaders. We need communicators, and that is your role.”
To successfully lead your crews, make sure their basic needs are covered from the moment they arrive at the project site. And then hold your morning huddle, and once that’s done, make sure your workers have:
- the right training
- the tools and equipment they need
- a place to work
- the time they need to do the work at a steady pace
When you’re able to provide your crew with these elements, you’re creating stability in their environment. And when they have a stable environment, they’ll be able to see as a group, know as a group, and act as a group.
Written by Jason Schroeder
January 16, 2022