What I learned about management from redesigning my home

2017 has been an interesting and varied year for me, and one of the things I’ve achieved is a renovation project to modernise my home. It was a completely new experience and despite a very steep learning curve, I ended up with a space that I designed myself and learned some useful lessons along the way. At the centre was the collaboration with a builder to realise my ambitions of creating a brand new environment. This involved remodelling the internal structure, demolishing the old and installing all new fittings. After the dust settled (so much dust!), I realised many of the situations we encountered had taught me new ways of thinking about people and team management.

Trust is the foundation

Although I sought recommendations for who to work with, negotiating at the start of the project was stressful. I had a budget and rough timescales agreed, but we needed to figure out a way of working together. In much the same way as onboarding a new team member, I had to explain the current situation, outline objectives for the future and what the end goal was. It was a lot of work, so the builder and I broke the project down into weekly chunks. We agreed the best order for tackling things and I wrote the schedule down on one of the walls. As well as tasks to be achieved, we identified dependencies that could delay the work (e.g. if the shower hadn’t arrived, we could not complete the bathroom). We both committed to the plan and trust was established. Learning: have more open discussions about project goals and the potential blockers to establish mutual responsibility and trust asap.

Open lines of communication

There was so much about construction that I didn’t know and every day a new question arose. How far in advance do you need to order a kitchen? What size of boiler is appropriate? How many plug sockets and light fittings? I was regularly on site to meet the latest question and try to work out the answer. I was never far from my mobile phone either, so that the builder could text or call me any time. We started to learn each others’ short-hand; I became adept at visualising a 60mm gap for a cabinet and he predicted the type of tile trim I would want. Decisions could be made quickly. As we had so much regular dialogue, it was easy to flag up problems or clarify misunderstandings. Learning: Find out how your team wants to communicate and keep listening.

Facilitate problem-solving but don’t micro manage

Whilst I made sure I was on site for daily updates, I also got out of the way promptly to allow progress to made. When we ran into inevitable complications, the builder would explain to me what the problem was and how it was challenging. I would collect as much information as possible, we’d discuss the solutions and then I would privately panic. I’d spend hours researching online and asking amongst my friends to try to identify the fix. But often when I next spoke to the builder, he had already identified the best option. I came to realise that my role was to understand problems, hear the frustration, offer support but also give space to allow a solution to be found. This was the toughest and perhaps most useful lesson. Learning: it is not easy, but you can facilitate problem-solving without being the one to solve the problem.

So by building trust, openly communicating and facilitating problem-solving we got there and I moved in after 6 weeks.