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How to create high-performing FM teams

Author : James Bennett-East

21 August 2015

David Kentish, co-founder and director of people development specialists Kentish & Co, explains how organisations within the FM sphere create strong interpersonal relationships that result in high-performing teams

Honesty, commitment and communication are the top three ingredients of a strong relationship, David Kentish, co-founder and director of people development specialists Kentish & Co, told PFM in an exclusive interview.

That’s according to The Way We Are Now: The State of the UK's Relationships 2014, the latest research from relationship experts Relate. Just over half (54%) of the respondents selected honesty as one of the two most important ingredients in sustaining a good quality relationship, 44% chose commitment and 40% felt communication was essential to success. At the same time, being in a good relationship makes us feel better about ourselves, feel healthier and enjoy greater wellbeing.

“But despite those conclusions, relationships in the workplace are often characterised by indifference, opaqueness, poor communication and occasionally downright deceit,” says Kentish. “That’s even more evident in many facilities teams when people will be employed by several different competing companies to support one client. Just as honesty, commitment and communication are key elements in a successful marriage, they’re essential in both the relationship between the client and service provider, between different service providers on a site, and between the service provider and its employees.”

Creating strong relationships within a team benefits everyone: the individual, the employer and the client, Kentish points out. “The majority of our waking hours revolve around work and we are as likely to have as much daily contact with our colleagues as we do our children, and far more than with our parents or friends. Which means the strength (or otherwise) of our relationship with our colleagues can impact our wellbeing. It therefore makes a huge difference to an organisation: the Relate research revealed that many people leave their jobs because they don’t get on with their boss or colleagues. People with stronger relationships with their colleagues tend to have much higher levels of performance and productivity.”

So how do organisations within the FM sphere create strong relationships between people which result in high-performing teams? Here are eight points listed by Kentish:

As the Relate research revealed good communication is at the heart of a strong working relationship. Once that mutual trust and dialogue fades (if it was even there in the first place) then both managers and team members tend to retreat behind their KPIs and SLAs. They use these metrics as an excuse not to have an honest conversation about what’s going wrong. Trainers and consultants are often bought in to solve problems in a contractual relationship that could be solved by the different parties sitting down together and having a no-holds-barred discussion about what’s going wrong and how it can be improved – a true marriage guidance counseling session. However, sometimes people are so entrenched in their views that divorce is the only answer. It takes a brave person to sit down and talk openly about the issues. Often poor communication between the client lead and the account director can filter down the ranks and create a culture of bullying.

When there are several service providers working together to support one client on a site then co-locating those teams in one building can have an almost magical effect in creating a one team approach. Strong working relationships are built up so people see their opposing number in the other service provider as a friend and not just a job title. If a small issue is raised it can be resolved with a quick chat across a desk, rather than a formal email or letter, before it becomes a problem. Once team members see their supervisors and leaders behaving in this way, they’re more likely to work together more collaboratively on the ground. Building up great relationships is the key to smooth working and high-performing teams.

Everyone in a facilities team has a customer-facing role. They don’t just have to be behind the reception desk or serving food in the restaurant to deal with customers. Cleaning operatives, maintenance engineers and landscape gardeners all interact with customers and should receive customer service training to make the most of those opportunities to delight the client. In order to make them feel good about their roles, and therefore perform at their best and go the extra mile, they need to be given autonomy to make decisions on minor issues – even if it is outside of their remit. That is the way to get the best team work out of people and ensure the client is getting the best value.

Cultural integration
High-performing teams adopt two or more cultures. They have the culture of the organisation that employs them, and they will likely appreciate the culture of the other service providers they work alongside. But the most important culture is that of the client organisation. They must understand the client’s values, strategy, direction, and have a good knowledge of their business – which department does what. That creates opportunities for teams to create conversations in passing with the client – about the major new piece of business, about the latest acquisition, or the incoming CEO – and demonstrate how intrinsic they are to the business. It also means the FM service can be adjusted accordingly – to provide all-night catering during a major deal negotiation, for example. Briefings to teams about the client, distributing the client internal newsletter, and encouraging interaction between individuals are key ways to achieve this.

Everyone needs to have a pat on the back when they’ve done a great job, so a recognition scheme for when someone has gone over and above the call of duty is essential to create a high-performing team. The rewards don’t have to be huge – a certificate, a gold star, a mention in the newsletter or on the noticeboard which, after several similar actions leads to a day off, a high-street voucher or a meal for two.

Many service providers like to have their own logos on uniforms and other material as a natural way to promote the brand, but this can often go against the one team approach. Instead consider a facilities brand that can be used across all uniforms which supports the concept that the FM team is part of the client organisation. Uniforms themselves are always a hot topic in FM. There’s nothing like a poorly-fitting design, a cheap fabric or an unattractive shade to encourage poor performance. Dress your people for success. That starts by involving your team in decisions about the design and fabric. 

Many organisations offer generous benefits to their employees including free, or heavily subsidised, food and drinks, an on-site gym, exercise classes and wellbeing sessions such as massage in addition to private healthcare, pensions and additional holiday pay. By inviting staff from the service providers to enjoy on-site benefits such as the gym, the client organisation can ensure the FM team feels part of the organisation and will go the extra mile.

Talent pipeline
The best teams are rarely static. People move on to other opportunities, they are promoted up the ranks, or move onto new contracts. Service providers looking to ensure a consistently high-performing team need to have a constant watch on the talent pipeline. By using formal training, coaching and mentoring, able employees can improve their skills and be ready to take a step up. Recruitment is expensive; by identifying tomorrow’s supervisors, managers and leaders from within the organisation, or even within the contract, service providers can ensure there are no gaps in service and that promoting someone from within the organisation means that they already have a culture of high performance. They are also a known quantity.

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