How to Create Unity Between the Field and the Office


In construction, it’s not unusual for there to be a strained relationship between the folks in the field and the management team in the office. After all, one team is out in the sun, getting their hands dirty and actually building. The other is (usually) in an air-conditioned space looking at a screen. One team's making the decisions, and the other is living with those decisions.

As a dirt world leader, you know this friction exists, and you know it exists within your own organization. While it can be easy to shrug off — after all, it’s a gap that’s always been there, and your company’s survived — at heart you know it’s having a negative effect on your team’s overall effectiveness.

So what’s the solution? Check out Willink’s tips to help you navigate this gap and create unity between field and office.

Communication up and down the chain of command.

Communication is key to managing the conflict between field and office. And this communication must go both up and down the chain of command. You need to communicate effectively with the people you’re managing, but by the same token, the people under you must also feel confident that they can bring issues to your attention.

As your team’s boss, you need to ask questions and get feedback — and you do this by building relationships. Let’s say, for example, someone on your team has run the numbers on a project they’re on, and sees that the company’s going to lose money on it. You want that person to feel comfortable coming to you about it.

“So now you can look at the team and say, 'Hey, everyone, here’s what’s going on,'” Willink said. “'The company’s going to take a hit on this, but it’s okay. The client’s got four more projects lined up for us. They’re going to take care of us.' Or maybe you’ll say, 'Wait a second, what do you mean we’re going to lose money?' And they explain, and then you can take this information and talk with the client.” Either way, relationships form the foundation for the kind of communication you want to foster with your team.

Don’t just explain the what — explain the why.

So how do you deal with your crews in the field having a bad attitude toward the office? For example, maybe a decision was made to do X, Y, and Z, and you’re hearing a lot of grumbling about it out in the field.

“That’s my fault,” Willink said. “It’s happening because I’m not explaining to them what’s going on. I say to them, 'Let me explain why we’re making this decision. Here’s what’s happening with the client.' Or, 'Here’s what’s happening with the state regulators. They’re imposing this new law that we can’t get out of. That’s why we’re doing this, that’s why we’re taking a hit on it right now.'”

And because communication needs to go both ways, remember to ask for suggestions and ideas from your team in the field. “Because the boss does want to know,” Willink noted. “The boss doesn’t want to do this thing either, but it’s the way the regulation is shaking out.” Once again, then, it all comes down to communication. And effective communication means not only explaining what’s happening, but more importantly, explaining why.

Get in the field.

The opposite also happens, of course. People in the office may perhaps be too detached from the situation in the field. They may even forget they’re working at a construction company, that there’s something outside the office — your field crew — that’s doing the work that’s actually paying for the entire office.

The way to make sure your office supports the field is to understand what the people on site are doing. “Go get in the field,” Willink instructed. “When I was a platoon commander, I went on every op. Because I was the commander, so I could. But when I was task commander, I couldn’t go on ops. Because I had multiple things I had to do, multiple elements that I needed to manage.”

When you’re not out on the field, it can become difficult to remember what goes on there. “So even when I was task commander, if a period of time went by where I hadn’t been in the field in a while, I would just go. I would get in the field.”

Vary your communication style.

Another key communication tactic for managing field versus office tension is varying your communication style. Managing your people in the field often requires a different style than managing your office.

And it’s not just the difference between field and office. As Willink put it, “Not all blue-collar people are the same. And not all white-collar people are the same. And depending on who I’m talking to, I’m going to communicate with them in a way that makes the most sense to them. So yes, absolutely, I vary my communication depending on who I’m managing.”

Takeaways.

Creating unity between your team in the field and your team in the office does not have to be an impossible task. The key is to focus on building relationships, because it’s your relationship with the people you manage that enables communication to go effectively both up and down the chain of command.

It’s not just about communicating what you need from your people, either. You should always ask questions, and seek their feedback. Don’t just tell them what to do. Explain the “why” behind what you’ve asked them to do.

And if you feel you’ve lost touch with how things are done on site? It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get back into the field.