Team Building: Creating a Good Place to Work - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Team Building: Creating a Good Place to Work

Photo: Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape

Employee retention is critical. When you can keep your solid employees, you are better able to grow rather than constantly having to replace your staff to maintain your current size. One major aspect of retention is having a workplace where people want to stay.

There are many competitions locally and nationally where businesses are recognized for being a “Top Workplace” or a “Best Place to Work” but what truly makes a workplace great and how do you create it at your own company?  

What Makes a Great Workplace?

Krisjan Berzins, founder of Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape based in Alexandria, Virginia, says there are lots of different factors that make a workplace great, but it must start at the top.

“It’s not just a collection of the best players,” Berzins says. “It’s a group of personalities and attitudes that mesh and blend together to ultimately create this great team. In many cases the championship team isn’t the team that has the best players, it’s the team that that plays the best together as a team.”

— Krisjan Berzins, founder of Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape

“There needs to be authenticity, honesty, and gratitude from team member to team member,” Berzins says. “If that’s not something that is instilled from the very top, I don’t think it takes root.”

Berzins says they discourage the idea that one person is better than another due to their title. While there are employees who supervise others, Berzins tries to promote an atmosphere where everyone is on the same level.

“If you feel like you’re better than someone just because you’re their supervisor, that’s a problem,” Berzins says.

He compares creating a great workplace to coaching a professional athletic team.

“It’s not just a collection of the best players,” Berzins says. “It’s a group of personalities and attitudes that mesh and blend together to ultimately create this great team. In many cases the championship team isn’t the team that has the best players, it’s the team that that plays the best together as a team.”

Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape hosts many fun gathers for their team including go-karting.
Photo: Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape

Kingstowne hosts a number of company events such as go-karting, whitewater rafting and barbecues for team building.

“Not everyone participates, but I generally get 75 percent participation,” Berzins says. “I used to want to make it mandatory because I really want to do this team building and build this bond, but for whatever reason, there’s always a handful of people that it’s just not their thing. I’ve learned to just get over the fact that there are a few people that just don’t attend those things, and they do their own thing. That’s okay, I don’t take it personally.”

Nubia Gutierrez, human resources manager for Mullin based in St. Rose, Louisiana, says they have always been working to make their workplace great and they’ll often ask their team members for their input and follow through with their staff’s suggestions.

“If you are asking for opinions, then people expect you to act,” Gutierrez says. “I think that act part is important as well, not just listening and getting people’s input but actually doing what they’re asking for.”

On monthly basis, Mullin will host events where their field staff and office staff can come together and feel welcome. Due to COVID-19, these events have been on hold for the time being, but Gutierrez says she looks forward to the day they can all gather together with families again. Mullin has earned the regional Top Workplaces award from The Times-Picayune for four years in a row now.

Mullin has been recognized as a Top Workplace for four years in a row.
Photo: Mullin

“It’s really our people,” Gutierrez says. “They make it happen. Our culture is an experience at Mullin, and we challenge everyone to achieve something great. You spend more time here at work than with your family. I think if you come here and not think of it as work, we’ve achieved what we wanted.”

Phil Key, president of Ruppert Landscape based in Laytonville, Maryland, says for them being a great workplace is a goal that is in constant motion. They are always tweaking things and raising the bar.

“One of the things that we have going for us is our company’s branching structure,” Key says. “We have many tight-knit branch teams that enable a small company feel, with individual team members who are much more connected to, and in tune with, how they’re contributing. As a company, we push people to learn, get out of their comfort zone and grow and then provide them with the opportunity to advance in their career. I think having opportunity and training resonates with people as well.”

Key says they devote a lot of time and resources to employee relations initiatives to ensure their team members feel appreciated throughout the year.

“These ‘thank yous’ range from events like our awards banquet, appreciation barbecues and team-building outings to bonuses that are both performance-based and discretionary to reward employees throughout the year as situations merit,” Key says.

Ruppert Landscape hosts an annual banquet celebrating their top employees.
Photo: Ruppert Landscape

Gutierrez says creating a great workplace is a learning experience. They will discuss implementing certain aspects with the staff and if they can tell it won’t be successful, they won’t execute it. Other times they will go through with things to see if it will work. She says the main thing is trying.

Likewise, Kingstowne and Ruppert have experienced trial and error with workplace improvements.

“We have tried various incentives — to improve safety, production, and tool and equipment care and retention — all of which were scrapped or revamped at various points when we realized they weren’t having the desired effect,” Key says. “I feel like you have to be willing to try a variety of ideas before you find things that work.”

What Employees Value the Most

What employees value the most varies slightly between the companies interviewed. The main theme is the employees appreciate being valued and trusted. For Mullin, Gutierrez says their team members appreciate the most the fact the company cares, listens and acts. She says they try to lead by example and no manager is too skilled to help someone.

“Sometimes our personal lives end up affecting our work lives,” Gutierrez says. “I listen. If I’m able to do something, then I’ll do it. Most recently we had a team member’s father that passed away. We sent flower arrangements to the funeral and we had a couple of team members along with myself and the owner attend the funeral.”  

Employees appreciated being valued and trusted.
Photo: Kingstowne Lawn & Landscape

At Ruppert in their most recent survey, one of the top things employees appreciated was that they had access to strong leadership in their local branches.

“There is confidence in the company’s direction and people feel comfortable that they are well-informed, listened to and have the ability to grow and advance,” Key says. “Additionally, employees consistently comment about valuing the company’s safety culture, training program and charitable giving.”

Berzins says at Kingstowne his employees enjoy not being micromanaged and are trusted to get the job done.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.