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Lou Bainbridge Builds Teams

DPR Construction Inc.’s team builder shares how to be collaborative instead of combative.

Here’s what Lou Bainbridge, 40, tells DPR’s prospective clients: “As an organization, we have chosen to be collaborative rather than combative. And that means that we don’t allow other members of our team to fail.”

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It’s a nice sentiment. Bainbridge’s job is to make it a reality.

As a member of DPR’s eight-person management committee, Bainbridge is responsible for building the teams that build every DPR project. His involvement with DPR began in 1991, when he spent three days talking with its cofounders about how they might create a company of the 21st century. At the time, Bainbridge was just a consultant to DPR, but in January 1997, he signed on as a full-time member of its team.

“My passion hasn’t changed,” he says. “I believe in people and in the possibility of pulling them together. DPR provides a great laboratory for doing that.”

From his experiments in that laboratory, Bainbridge has drawn three conclusions about building teams:

Teams get built one person at a time.

Big construction projects require big teams. But Bainbridge always tries to start small. “You build teams with three or four people around a table,” he says. “Then you double the number of members.” And then you double it again: “I know lots of companies that do 40- or 50-person team-building sessions. But with a team that big, if you don’t have half of the group running with you — at a personal as well as a business level — then you don’t stand a chance of pulling everyone together.”

Judge a team by how it handles setbacks.

The best way to prove oneself is to deal well with adversity — with what Bainbridge likes to call “the big rocks in the road.” Says Bainbridge: “You watch a problem as it comes toward a team. Then you come in and coach the team through a successful resolution.” Solving that first big problem makes it easier for a team to solve the next one: “The other rocks, the ones down the road, aren’t as big as people once thought.”

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Nothing succeeds like success.

Winning teams think hard about how they budget their money and time. They should also think hard about how they celebrate their success. “We all take ourselves way too seriously,” Bainbridge says. “We need to lighten up.” Celebrating can mean something as simple as passing out golf shirts whenever a team hits a performance milestone. Or it can mean devoting the first five minutes of every meeting — meetings usually revolve around problems — to highlighting successes. “There’s nothing like a whiteboard covered with wins,” Bainbridge says. “It raises the energy level of your meetings and reminds people that they can succeed together: ‘Sure, we’ve got three big obstacles to talk about today. But here are 30 places where we made big things happen.’ “

Contact Lou Bainbridge by email (loub@dprinc.com).

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