By: Dan Redcay, Wohlsen Construction Company

The big top. A fantastic display of jaw dropping stunts and tricks, consisting of numerous acts, all unique in their own way, fueled by the applause and excitement of the crowd. Each individual act is equally important and plays a key role. The circus has one person in the center, the driver behind the whole show, the ringmaster. The ringmaster guides the program from act to act to maintain the crowd’s excitement, produce the best show possible and convince the crowd to come back. It is important that the ringmaster and the performers see eye-to-eye and work together for the entire show. The key to a fantastic circus is not one specific act, but instead every individual piece working together seamlessly under the direction of the ringmaster.

So, how is the circus related to construction? Some may say the two are more than just related. This article will key in on the relationship between the ringmaster, or general contractor, and the individual acts, or subcontractors. If you are reading this and aren’t necessarily in the construction industry, don’t worry, the principles mentioned in this article can be applied to most professional settings. To set the stage, a general contractor holds the contract directly with the client and bears ultimate responsibility for the project, or the entire circus. While the subcontractor possesses a contract with the general contractor to complete work for a specific trade, or specific stunt, within a project. Likewise, the ringmaster holds the responsibility for the entire show, and each individual act holds the responsibility for producing a great act. A general contractor may work with as many as forty subcontractors on a project. From the earliest stage of bidding to the final closeout and project turnover, the general and sub-contractors work very closely together as a team to produce a high-quality product, just as the ringmaster works closely with each performance to create the circus. In construction, this involves communication and interaction, from phone calls and emails to in-person job site meetings or even the new standard, video conference.

Why would a general contractor put the effort into building a mutual relationship with subcontractors? In the same way, why would the ringmaster build relationships with his performers? First, they can rely on each other through the whole construction process from bidding to closeout. The relationship builds trust that each entity can count on the other to meet their needs and do as they are asked in a timely manner.

Moreover, it also builds better communication. When there is a strong professional relationship, emails can receive a quicker response, taking calls from the other tends to take higher importance, and potentially, more effort could be put into a task.

Third, a solid relationship produces a willingness to help each other out when in a bind. Everyone can use help occasionally. Whether it’s a simple task, or, for example, taking on additional scope for a project. Lastly, and probably the most prominent reason, relationships affect networking, and reputation. Breaking news: professionals talk, a lot, within companies, and across the industry. This is where reputations and names live. For example, a project manager is trying to find a painter to use on a project, and he asks one of his colleagues who they suggest. That colleague most likely will suggest a painter with whom they like to work, someone they confidently rely on and who does quality work.
The suggested painter might have won the contract, or at least had an opportunity because of their relationship and reputation. Remember that situation can go both ways, the reputation of a general contractor may affect a subcontractor’s decision to bid on a project for them. Building solid, mutually beneficial professional relationships facilitates current projects to thrive, creates raving fans of the client, and establishes fertile ground for new relationships to develop.

As a general contractor, it is important to actively try to start these relationships with subcontractors by reaching out and meeting with them in their office. It’s great to put a face with a name and voice! These meetings should be set up with not only subcontractors that have already built a relationship, but with new ones that the general contractor hasn’t worked with yet. If they have worked together before, a valuable part of meeting is to get feedback, both positive and negative, about their processes to hopefully critique each other to be better companies. Sometimes, it’s the little things one company doesn’t notice that can affect the other entity, and the only way to find out is by having a face-to-face conversation. A few of the benefits are gaining a better understanding of each other, discussing the complete range of work that they do, as well as fully understanding their “bread and butter” project (the project type at which they are most profitable).

A construction project is like a circus. The circus works together as one to excite the crowd, earn applauses, and create a wow factor. In the same fashion, the project team works together to meet schedule, be profitable, and produce a high-quality finished product. But both ultimately strive to exceed expectations and keep the audience or client coming back. To be the greatest show on earth, it is quintessential that the ringmaster and the performers acknowledge that they are all under the same big tent.

Posted June 4, 2021