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Is Your Crew Sustainable?

Joseph Fearn


Based on the title of this blog you may be thinking how your team works with native plants, resource conservation, or uses alternative fuel. I am thinking of sustainability from a different vantage point. Crew sustainability asks 'can your team survive?' Put another way, this blog asks can you survive AND be successful over the long term? The landscapes we manage are constantly changing. Most often our responsibilities are increasing while the resources we are provided by our parent organizations are shrinking. This paradox requires Grounds Managers to do more with less and often necessitates we look critically at our equipment, cultural regimens and resource consumption to ensure we are operating with careful stewardship. But how often do we look at our staff and teams critically through the lenses of team conservation? I say not often at all. Far too often we (or our organizations) treat staff as a commodity as opposed to a resource to be carefully managed and conserved.

Far too often we (or our organizations) treat staff as a commodity as opposed to a resource to be carefully managed and conserved...

Let the Team Help Create the Process
One of the major ways to keep a team connected is to let them contribute to your organization's effort. This contribution doesn’t simply mean productivity or how “hard” they work. I’m speaking about letting them feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Nearly all the people I have ever worked with want to be included. They want to be seen as having played an authentic role in your success. Unfortunately, when team members don’t feel included, it can manifest in negative behaviors. I suggest letting all members of the team have some voice in how the work progresses. This can be beneficial to managers in several ways. It lets the team take ownership of successfully achieving work which can create satisfaction and team pride. It creates accountability when we are part of the decision-making process, tying us to its results. There is no blaming shortfalls on someone/something else. Perhaps most importantly it can demonstrate team expertise and foster reverse mentorship. These outcomes make the team more satisfied and fosters further investment to continuing success.

Training and Enrichment
Employing professional and technically capable workers is essential to meeting operational expectations and maintaining a sustainable workforce. Our teams must partake in appropriate job related training and skill development. Unfortunately, our constantly evolving work environments (both in the field and our personnel) make this very challenging. I argue it is the most important piece of the puzzle toward achieving superior results. Providing frequent, meaningful training empowers the workforce. Simply put, most workers want to do a good job. I truly believe this.  In my career as a Supervisor, I have only run across a handful that were willfully not interested in achieving positive results. What holds many people back is structural obstacles (lack of expertise, incomplete organizational communication, no appreciation, etc.) As Managers (Leaders) we have usually been self-directed and self-responsible for our improvement. Our work/life experiences instilled these traits in us. Many of our workers are simply waiting for the team to instill it in them, even when they don’t know they are looking for it. Good team leaders perform strengths/challenges analysis of their operation and react through training to develop their workers. 


Training your team builds expertise and lets them take ownership of your processes.

Meaningful Contribution
Creating a workplace atmosphere that allows and rewards meaningful contribution is another step that builds a sustainable workforce. Much like expertise, the majority of employees want to work effectively to support their teams. All of us can appreciate the satisfaction that comes from being an integral part of team success. Sharing in success validates our professionalism and rewards us through the respect and thanks of our peers and organization. Some workers are looking for this. Others, perhaps less self-aware, don’t recognize the satisfaction that can come from team accomplishment, but can be shown the benefits of contribution readily. Personal satisfaction takes many forms though. This is actually a good thing for the team. When individuals contribute in different ways it builds strength and flexibility into your operation. Trying to get all people onto the same page is not only difficult but also can be self-defeating by repeating common mistakes. Allow workers to satisfy themselves within the team. The payback to themselves and the team will be worth it.


Letting your teams perform on their own at times creates a sense of pride in contributing to team success.

Any discussion of employee retention and satisfaction must include compensation. Money can be a powerful motivator however is not a magic fix to maintaining a stable team. No matter how enriching and satisfying your workplace is for your employees, they will not be fully productive if they can’t buy milk/pay bills at the end of the month. This is not a learning to budget issue on the employees’ behalf either. Unfortunately, every organization I have worked for has been reluctant (some even miserly) to generously compensate employees. Using compensation as a tool to drive performance and reward consistent high execution benefits our operations far more than the possible savings from lower wages. Hiring and training workers is expensive. Next, the remaining staff has to (hopefully) pick up the load while the position is refilled. New employees must assimilate and may not even last. Some workers take vast stores of institutional knowledge with them upon separation. Given the current difficulties hiring any employees, providing adequate and even exceptional compensation makes much more sense. Grounds managers and our sustainable (satisfied) workers will be sure your organization gets its money’s worth.

Simply put, most workers want to do a good job...

Workforce Master Planning
Creating a sustainable crew is not a one step process. It requires a comprehensive approach that is adapted to your operation. Failure to address mediocre team commitment results in a team that constantly struggles to keep up. Awareness of diminishing employee satisfaction compels grounds managers to look at our teams through critical eyes. By performing frank analysis of any issues coupled with honest discussions from all levels/sections of our teams we can address the particular causes of our difficulties.   If we are lucky our operation may need only small adjustments. Any of the aforementioned components can help improve retention but when they all come together the results can be extraordinary. The benefit of a sustainable team creates an upward spiral and can make all the difference in your success.


Monitoring overall team satisfaction can create not only a productive crew but also a sustainable one.



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