Building Blocks for a High-Performing Team

Bill Rudolph
Rudolph/Libbe Companies, Inc.

Building Blocks for a High-Performing TeamWhen a company has two successful primary business units, and wants to be significantly more successful, its people really need to know how to think and talk together.

The Rudolph/Libbe Companies is a full-service national construction firm and employer of more than 1,000 people, offering a broad range of construction, maintenance, facility, and energy services. We’ve built our business on the foundation of looking at projects from the perspective of our customer and helping them achieve their business objectives. This approach has helped us build great long-term relationships with our customers. Our business units, Rudolph-Libbe and GEM, Inc., provide different services, but share many common customers and regularly work in concert to deliver projects. Thus, we share a large number of interdependencies. We’ve worked together by sharing specific capabilities and specialization when that’s the best way to help our customer achieve their objectives. It’s like working with Lego pieces – the company that makes red pieces needs green ones, so we make them available where needed. We take the proper green pieces over to the red pieces and combine them, resulting in exactly what the customer needs.

Of course, it’s not always this simple. By nature, we’ve developed separate groups. Each unit has special skills that help us win business and create good value for customers, but our separateness can impede our ability to innovate and deliver a new and more valuable mix of skills, people, and processes.

Now, the skills and abilities that separate us are also great assets. Like most organizational divisions, we are really good at certain things. We see the benefit of keeping these skill areas separate, and we don’t want to give up these unique offerings. Basically, we want to do “both – and.” We have customers who came to us precisely because of our core capabilities, and they are referring us to other customers. These are relationships where we want to continue to invest, so we can serve these customers forever.

We have also found that we can bundle our core capabilities across business units and create opportunities that our competitors can’t replicate. It is really fun when we get our customers excited about how we help their businesses perform more successfully when we package capabilities across business units, so we wanted to know how to do more of that.

Help Wanted

We’d been trying to grow these capabilities to a new level for a number of months and weren’t making much progress. In our language, we were stuck in our current thinking and needed someone to bring the winch and lift us out. We needed to figure out how to get this right – to accelerate the growth of our customer offerings of unique packages of capabilities from across the companies, without giving up what is already working well. We knew we needed outside help, and we decided to work with Root.

There are unseen benefits to getting help from outside your own company when you’re moving through a change process. Root wasn’t derailed by knowing our history or things we had tried in the past. We started with a clean sheet of paper, and that helped us see the potential and possibilities through fresh eyes.
Partnering with Root, we explored the elements that create a high-performing team. We started with behaviors for building trust and mastering conflict. Having the ability to discuss difficult topics in a constructive way is vital to making change. We needed to isolate and work on the behaviors that are important to us as a company to replicate success – as well as eliminate behaviors that are roadblocks to success.
Root interviewed our executive and senior management team members separately on the critical issues and how we felt about them. They created a Watercooler™ sketch to make it easier for us to visualize, think, and talk about our issues. That helped us decide what we needed to deal with, what we truly believe, and what opportunities could lie ahead.

The Beauty of Rules

Together, we crafted a set of behavioral ground rules. As simple as this sounds, it was a remarkably enlightening experience. This exercise allowed us to really appreciate the value of a strong leadership foundation. Without this step, we wouldn’t have been able to move to development of plans
to accelerate the growth of our capabilities.

From there, we identified our current state and the critical issues to deal with to grow this aspect of our business. We determined the elements that we really wanted to address from both opportunity and challenge perspectives. As a group, we defined the best ways to please customers and how we felt about
growth, our business model, and our culture.

Then, using the foundations built with our new behaviors and the Watercooler™ sketch – and when we faced our underlying beliefs and truth statements – we more clearly began to understand the world around us. We developed a picture of a future state for our companies and articulated what we’d like to accomplish that’s different from what we’ve done in the past.

As of today, we are refining our idea of our future state. We’ve engaged another level of senior management, beginning with an introduction to the behavioral ground rules. Together, we talked about why those are important to us and how we expect this group to hold us accountable for living them. They then made their own behavioral ground rules to improve team performance and organizational health. This is ongoing, and we intend to continue to engage more and more people.

The Key: Changing Habits

Probably the most important thing we’ve seen from a results perspective is the benefit of the behavioral changes. This is basic, but it’s really the foundation that must be in place before you can talk about any business issue. The ground rules allow teams to move forward far more easily.
Our success so far is all a result of changing habits. We all publicly committed to establishing the behaviors, and we’re making progress in holding each other accountable to them. We’ve all stumbled – and we’ve pointed it out in a constructive way. We talk about getting a “yellow card” when we deserve it, and we laugh about it and start over. We revisit the rules before and after meetings and check how well we followed them.

As we continue to dialogue about our opportunities, we’re getting better at the technique and also at accelerating the delivery of new and better solutions to our customers that improve their business performance. By discovering the resources, knowledge, and skills where another unit can help, new and even better solutions for our customers have become apparent.

Eventually, we’ll launch this to the rest of the organization. We have a lot of work ahead in terms of defining our future state and engaging our leaders making it a reality. With their input, we’ll modify our visualization tools to better communicate where we’re going.

When we started this new technique of thinking and talking together, we wanted to use the skills and processes of one unit to benefit another to make it “go faster” – not to re-invent the wheel. Now, with a collective view, we see even more opportunities to move our growth agenda forward faster.

Bill Rudolph was named president of The Rudolph/Libbe Companies, Inc., in April of 1998 and Chairman in May of 2004. The Rudolph/Libbe Companies is the parent company of Rudolph|Libbe Inc., GEM Industrial Inc., and Rudolph/Libbe Properties.