Teamwork Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Tracy Hart is not one to hogall the credit for a job well done.

Instead, the co-owner, president and CEO of Tarlton Corp. isfirst in line to give credit wherecredit is due.

“It comes into play all thetime,” she says. “For instance,somebody will say to me, ‘Youdid a great job on XYZ project,’and the best thing I can do is tosay, ‘We had a very talentedteam on that job.’ It certainlyisn’t my credit. I didn’t build thejob.”

Hart says it takes a healthydose of humility to lead her300 employees at her family’sgeneral contracting and construction management firm,which posted fiscal 2007 revenue of $108 million. And it’snot important that a leader becredited with every success.

“If you’re not worried aboutthat, then you’re going to dowhat’s in the best interest ofthe company,” she says. “Ifyou can think company first,that’s exciting.”

Smart Business spoke withHart about how to build a solidteam and why it’s important toacknowledge others’ success.

Acknowledge the success of others. It’s fun when you say, ‘Andthis team came up with thisgreat idea.’ If they had a success, share that with folks. Itgives away your power, andempowerment is fun.

We have the Monday morning memo, a weekly one-page memo that goes toeverybody in the companyby e-mail or hard copy forour job sites, and it talksabout our successes. Ourexecutive assistant collectsthe information, and anybody can put something in it.We’ve been doing it for atleast six or seven yearsbecause people need toknow what’s going on.

It’s important to communicate important informationthat your employees need ona weekly basis. When thingsstarted going electronic, westopped doing the company’squarterly newsletter, andusually, by the time it cameout, the information was oldanyway.

Talk and listen. Communicationis the key to collaborationbecause you have to spendtime talking to your teamabout all of the issues surrounding whatever it isyou’re leading. I go to different job sites, and I walkaround the building. Part ofit is discipline because it’seasy to hide behind our e-mails and not get out andtalk to people.

I do things like turning offthe computer when employees come in my office. It’sthat eye-to-eye contact. It’snot checking my Treo. Allthose things are just plaingood listening skills.

And then, I believe thatnone of us is as smart as all of us. You have to be willingto listen to ideas and suggestions and vet those ideas as agroup. Then you build consensus on what the appropriate solution is. When you dothings like that, it helps yougroom future leaders, aswell. Nobody has to be theman behind the curtain.

Choose the right teammates. Youcan always train technical.We look for attitude and foraccomplishments. Have theybeen able to accomplishthings? It depends on whatlevel of position you’re looking for. The accomplishments of somebody out ofcollege are going to be different than a senior manager,for instance, but you want tosee if they’ve taken initiative, taken some risks and triedsomething.

We also do personality testing by a third party and lookat all the different aspects ofthe individual to see if they’rea good fit for our culturebecause we all work on thesame team.

Create a positive culture. Myfather [Robert Elsperman,former Tarlton president]would say that he has twofamilies: the one that he’srelated to and the one at5500 W. Park Ave. Employeesspend a lot of time here, andit ought to be enjoyable.

They ought to have balancein their lives, but we expecta lot while they’re here, aswell. It’s that work hard, play hard piece. As long asour clients are happy, andeverybody here is happy, weusually have great results.

We (recently) had our fieldversus office softball game.We have a company picnic.We have a day in our equipment facility where employees can bring their families,and their kids can climb onequipment. We try to have alittle levity at Tarlton becauseour employees are hereawake more than any placeelse. We want people tostick around.

Loyalty is important to us.If I treat you as I’d like to betreated, it works.

Keep an open mind when makingdecisions. Sometimes you’vealready gone down the process of, ‘I know how wecan solve this.’ Sometimesyou have to be the personthat solves it, and sometimesyou have to make unilateraldecisions. If you’re lookingfor lasting success, createopportunities for decision-making that people can buyin to.

That trickles down intoour projects. For instance,one of the best things wecan do when we put together a schedule for a construction project is to getsubcontractor feedback aswe’re going through thatprocess. It makes them partof the team and helps thembuy in to those goals thatwe’re setting up.

HOW TO REACH: Tarlton Corp., (314) 633-3300 or www.tarltoncorp.com