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By Rebecca Mohrmann
From the April 2024 Issue


Facility management operations teams are incredibly diverse. Not only do their jobs vary widely — from janitorial and facility engineering to grounds crew and mailroom staff — but also their educational and aptitude levels differ, as do their ethnic backgrounds and native languages. Managing such a diverse team and getting members to work together effectively is inherently challenging. However, doing so is also crucial to facility services success. A facility management team that is not effectively managed cannot deliver the services your organization needs. 

The key is to manage with humanity and to foster a CREW mentality for your team, where Communication, Respect, Empathy, and a Willing Attitude are continually encouraged and celebrated. Only then can leaders keep everyone rowing in the same direction, toward the same goals.

The key is to manage with humanity and to foster a CREW mentality for your team, where Communication, Respect, Empathy, and a Willing Attitude are continually encouraged and celebrated. Only then can leaders keep everyone rowing in the same direction, toward the same goals.

Managing With Humanity

Good FM managers have a strong facility services background. They are knowledgeable about the many tasks their employees need to perform and how to accomplish them. However, to be truly great FM managers, this alone is not sufficient. They also need to model an open, honest, and respectful workplace.

Effective FM managers:

  • Create an environment of psychological safety, where people of all backgrounds feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other. This starts at the top, with managers showing their own vulnerabilities and emotions.   
  • Acknowledge and learn from their own mistakes, and share them with team members so they, too, can learn.
  • Cultivate self-awareness about their values, beliefs, and behaviors, and their impact on others.
  • Act with care and good intent and connect personally. Consistently show appreciation and support. For instance, follow-up with staff members who called out with a sick child to ask how their child is doing. Express interest in an employee’s hobbies or family. Treat staff to baked goods and coffee.
  • Back up integrity with actions. Follow through on commitments, be transparent in decision-making, provide honest constructive feedback, and fix mistakes whenever possible.
  • Actively create opportunities for team members to lead and grow. This includes helping individuals better understand what motivates and works for them. Some managers encourage employees to take a personality quiz to understand them better, whether they are extroverts or introverts, for example, and, therefore, how to best set them up for success. 

facility management team, CREW, UG2

How CREW Helps Diverse FM Teams Excel

As Vala Afshar famously said, “You are not a team because you work together. You are a team because you trust, respect, and care for each other.” In other words, to build satisfying and effective working relationships–including successful FM teams–people must treat one another as they want to be treated. They must also extend this behavior to all their customers, which might include tenants, faculty, students, parents, staff, and visitors. This is the foundation of CREW, a practice all leaders should instill in their teams.

Communication is a two-way street. One side is active listening. This does not mean simply being able to repeat what someone says. It means truly focusing on the speaker and trying to understand the thoughts and intentions behind their words. It requires the listener to pay attention to the speaker’s body language and tone of voice–and to also monitor their own. For instance, nodding your head in agreement while standing with arms crossed or a distasteful expression on your face conveys mixed signals– and a lack of honesty.

The other side is about speaking concisely and with clarity. This can be difficult for many people. It’s made even more challenging on FM teams, which are usually comprised of a diverse group with different native languages. To ensure everyone can communicate clearly and fully understand each other, consider having a translator as part of the team, someone who speaks English and other languages common to team members. Have them attend team meetings and, if needed, one-on-one meetings. When using presentations such as PowerPoint or Google Slides, spell out key messages in several languages.

Respect: Too often in busy FM environments, respect can fall by the wayside unintentionally. Sometimes this is because people are so focused on their jobs that interactions become brief and curt. Sometimes it is due to cultural differences. People with different backgrounds may interact differently and not realize when others feel disrespected.

Managers must model respect so that others replicate it. For instance, do not just tell staff to do something, explain why. Even if they do not like the answer, they will appreciate that you respected them enough to provide the reason behind the ask. Acknowledge others’ efforts and say thank you. Model how it is possible to disagree with others’ opinions and beliefs without being rude or judgmental. Help team members understand their differences and appreciate why others may act or feel a certain way.

For example, to encourage team bonding and demonstrate respect, hold a potluck lunch where everyone brings a dish representing their heritage. Ask each person about their favorite customs, what they do for fun, and how, as the leader, you can show respect for their heritage. By simply asking that last question you are showing respect.

Empathy: Having empathy is critical in every FM job, at every level. Managers can foster this by reminding team members that no one truly knows what is going on with their colleagues on a personal level. They may be caring for sick relatives or dealing with financial stress or family tensions. All this can impact how they perform and interact on any given day because, whether people realize it or not, everyone brings their whole selves to work.

Modeling empathy also requires actively discouraging rumors and gossip. A great team activity to demonstrate this is the telephone game, where participants quietly pass a message from one to another around the room. The final message is typically very different from the starting one. Leaders can use this game to exemplify how it can easily get twisted and distorted. Discuss how harmful and unfair this can be, and what it truly means to walk in someone else’s shoes. 

Willing Attitude: With FM operational teams often including janitorial, facility engineering, grounds crew, and mailroom staff, it is not surprising that people in one job may feel they don’t need to help those in another role. In some cases, this makes sense–perhaps they do not have the appropriate technical skills. But overall, the “it’s-not-my-job” attitude is not only inappropriate, it also leads to resentment and poor service quality.

Leadership is not a set-and-forget type of job. Be sure to always keep everyone’s “humanness” top-of-mind and adjust your behaviors and practices as needed to support the changing dynamics inherent in FM environments and diverse teams.

Everyone must be willing to pitch in, especially in an environment like facility services where things are constantly changing and often need quick attention. Leaders must reinforce the importance of everyone working together towards their organization’s goals–and that being a good team member means being ready and willing to step up.

Best Practices For FM Operations Team Meetings

Team meetings should be sacred. Make sure they are regularly held and that attendance is required. They are critical for not only keeping everyone on task and “rowing in the right direction”, but also for engendering the feeling of “team.”

Here’s a sample meeting agenda that can help accomplish these goals:

Start by celebrating humanity: Use an ice-breaker question to help team members relax and connect. Acknowledge birthdays and work anniversaries and celebrate accomplishments.

Focus the bulk of the meeting on policies/procedures that need attention and ways to put CREW into action. Policies may include anything from reminders about how to clean janitorial machines and keeping closets organized to appropriate use of cell phones when on the job. 

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Also announce personnel updates, such as open positions and new hires, and then do a team-building exercise that focuses on one of the CREW attributes. 

End the meeting with safety training and a preview of upcoming projects. Coordinate with the facility’s head of safety to highlight a different aspect of safety at each meeting. Make sure members know if there are any customer events they will need to support in the next few weeks such as conferences or new student orientation at universities, or projects they should be aware of such as LEED certifications. Encourage questions and remind everyone that there is no such thing as a “dumb” one.

Leadership is not a set-and-forget type of job. Be sure to always keep everyone’s “humanness” top-of-mind and adjust your behaviors and practices as needed to support the changing dynamics inherent in FM environments and diverse teams. The more you put into it, the greater returns you reap. When done right, FM leadership is extremely rewarding for managers, employees, and institutions at large.

facility management team, CREW, UG2Mohrmann is an Account Director with UG2. She has over 15 years of facilities management experience with a specialty in higher education. 

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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