Can You Build a Team?

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To understand what kind of superintendent Rusty Wolf is (he recently accepted a promotion to companywide construction manager), it is important to know he was a military man, and not just an ordinary military man.

September 01, 2002

 

Name: Howard 'Rusty' Wolf

Company: Trustway Homes, Pewaukee, Wis.

Years as superintendent: 4

Customer willingness to recommend: 100%

Units carried per quarter: 12 to 15

Days ahead/behind schedule: 8 ahead

Homes delivered last year: 32

Value of homes delivered: $9.8 million

Hard-cost variance: within 1%

Note: Trustway is an on-your-lot builder

To understand what kind of superintendent Rusty Wolf is (he recently accepted a promotion to companywide construction manager), it is important to know he was a military man, and not just an ordinary military man.

A couple of assignments before his 1997 retirement from the Army, Wolf was a battalion commander in charge of 773 soldiers. That experience, he says, translates directly to his paternalistic and coaching type of approach to building a home building team made up of "tradesmen" as the trade contractors.

"You look out for every single one of them because you are the commander," says Wolf. "In this job, I'm taking care of the people as well as the customer. If I can make money by scheduling a subcontractor correctly and help him make money by not wasting his time, everybody comes out ahead."

Elements of team building: Upon entering home building as a superintendent who had studied architecture in college but had no direct construction experience, Wolf met with each of his vendors and trade contractors. His message: "I am here to learn, and we are going to work with each other to get this thing done." He gained trust by giving trades everything they needed. Questions were answered promptly. If the trades needed a decision made by the customer to keep a job moving, Wolf would get it for them. "Building a team was not a fast process," he says. "But once it gets going, it goes well."

Customer as team player: Wolf's concept of the construction team is broad. No one, from trade contractor to accounting, is left out. And instead of building a team to serve the customers, Wolf adds customers to the roster. In his first meetings with them, he focuses on the communication aspect and a quality experience. "We are not just building a house," he tells them. "We are going to have fun doing it." Major benefits of this approach are that it typically puts the customers more at ease and it reduces the potential for adversarial thinking.

Teams communicate ideas better: A true team approach often becomes an engine for improvement. In less open situations, ideas for improvement can be taken as a way to say "you are doing it the wrong way." Wolf knew that his team was headed in the right direction when his framer suggested moving a wall 6 inches to avoid using an expensive micro-laminate lumber item and save two hours of labor.

What the trades say. "Rusty is one of the better ones out there. When he tells me a site is ready, I can take it to the bank. With others, I go check to make sure before sending out the crews. He also has great communication skills. All the crews respect him for always understanding what they need. For our guys, it is all piecework, and if they are driving and wasting time, they are not getting paid." -- John Stemper, owner, Stemper Drywall, Genesee, Wis.

 


Audio Clips

  Rusty on treating subcontractors as teammates

  Rusty on building a team

  Rusty on building a reputation with your customers

  Rusty on opening lines of communication

  Rusty on streamlining processes

  Rusty on the superintendent as a coordinator

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