One day while we were shorthanded, I was bullfloating a driveway as our crew jumped over to the house next door, pouring out the balance of our last load into some steps and a porch. They didn’t float the porch off to grade and left it back-pitching. Later, when they fell back to working the drive, I set into rubbing out the risers and working the porch.

When our boss showed up, he assumed I had laid down the porch, thus getting upset with me. Things were tense between us the rest of the week. The situation finally came to a head while we were pouring a big driveway. I couldn’t take his attitude so I asked him if there was problem. It went great from there. But honestly, until we talked, I was singing to myself, “Take this job and shove it.”

We’ve all been there. There’s an underlying problem, but no one wants to bring it to the surface. Or, when it comes up too late, there’s a big blow-up. As a kid, I loved hearing my dad spin tales about fights on the jobsite. Those days of brawling on the site and then going out and having a beer together are over. It’s bad for business and, in this economy, you also can’t afford that type of reputation.

You may have a zero-tolerance policy for fighting, but what are you actually doing to help your people work out their problems? If you want to reduce having to replace and train new workers and gain more productivity from your crew, you’ll invest a little time in training your leaders in how to reinforce their relationships. If you think this just comes naturally, look over your W2s again.

Honesty and cooperation

What can you do? For starters:

  • Model honesty and openness. As soon as you have an issue, lead by example and calmly call out the problem; clear the air ASAP. This also means you are open to hearing the problems your crew has with you.
  • Reward cooperation. Be creative here. But make sure you keep your crew happy by matching up people that work well together. Encourage friendships. You might fear they’ll slack off if they are friends, but actually crews work harder and pull their weight this way.
  • Don’t let troublemakers hijack your crew. Either people get on board and cooperate, or they have to go. I don’t care if the guy can trowel 2000 square feet by himself; you can’t afford the setbacks and your people don’t deserve the added hassle.

From the top-down, contractors need to keep their fingers on the pulse of their crews. Equip your foremen on how to resolve conflicts, build unity, and develop more teamwork. Start talking about problems because communication is like the footing for all our working relationships; everything rests on our ability to talk. The contractor that doesn’t foster an environment where his crews learn how to speak up soon finds his men either fighting or walking off.

And you must help your people manage conflict by dealing with their problems on the same day; don’t wait until it’s too late. The longer your crew is together, the more dependable and productive they are.

Craig Cottongim is certified in conflict resolution and is a long-time concrete finisher who’s also a writer and communicator. E-mail