Construction industry companies with a flat, also known as horizontal, structure are utilizing the optimal way to speed up construction processes. The flat organizational structure eliminates most middle management positions and results in very little hierarchy. People all along the process chain know what the organization as a whole is doing, and they know their part in it. The information that flows from the office to the field enables people all along that path to make decisions based on that workflow.
At the opposite type of organizational structure spectrum, a hierarchical setup results in each department’s information being developed in a silo without the sharing and knowledge of what other departments are doing. Many times, this leaves departments “flying blind” on the job. The natural order in a hierarchical organization is that some people want to feel that they’re more important – their decisions are more critical – than someone else.
Conversely, in the flat organizational style, people closest to the action make key decisions, and everyone else along the production chain does all they can to remove the obstacles so the work can get done expediently. The ultimate benefit of this streamlined approach to communication is speed. The ultimate goal becomes accurate and actionable information. Information needs to be the focus. Correct information creates a seamless workflow on the job. Pushing correct information through an organization speeds up processes.
The MEP contractor on a job is there to install their part of the project. The faster they can do that correctly, the more work they can sell and install. From a practical standpoint, any task that doesn’t make that happen is waste.
There are steps companies can take to make it easier to be more horizontal in their processes.
One step is to not punish people for mistakes that are unrelated to life safety. As long as it’s not the same person making the same mistake over and over, it’s best to remember that to err is human, and those errors can be avenues of learning. Savvy managers use mistakes as an opportunity for the entire organization to grow and improve its processes. Spotlighting failures is not an easy mindset for some people to adopt. However, people need to know they have a voice in an organization, and it’s okay to speak up. In the push against employees’ natural tendency to feel more important than each other, everyone’s decisions and input are understood to be important.
If you have good people aligned around a clear and specific goal, they should be given the responsibility to achieve that goal. A significant component is trust in your people. Mistakes are an investment in those people – and the company as a whole – getting better at what they do. When employees are all on the same page, their efforts become cumulative, not competitive among departments.
Cost effective processes are a must-have at this point in our economic picture. As safety regulations are increasingly cutting into productivity – as much as 40% – that loss needs to be made up somewhere or the company cannot survive long-term. Optimal performance by flattening a company’s operations is one answer to the question, “What does optimal performance look like in MEP?”
To answer that question, I sat down with Clay Smith, CEO of eVolve MEP, in episode 41 of the Bridging the Gap Podcast. He explained some lessons learned from his Army and West Point days, as well as from his over 25 years of executive experience in construction and technology. Listen to episode 41 today – “The Recipe for Proper Information Flow in Construction“.