This month, Engineered Systems is highlighting its annual engineering team award, so I thought I’d highlight the need to build teamwork. The best place to start building teamwork is right within your own company. If the firm has several regional offices, it just makes the teambuilding that much more challenging.

Stand and Deliver

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at an annual engineering conference. This conference was a company-sponsored event by one of the major engineering firms in the building industry. With several regional offices and several hundred employees, the firm brought approximately 25% of their senior engineering staff into Boston to participate in their own two-day event.

On the agenda were a total of nine technical, engineering sessions. Equipment vendors presented a few of these sessions, while the employees presented the majority of sessions. Each class was worth one college education unit (CEU). The sessions addressed design issues and gave employees the opportunity to practice their presentation skills among their peers. The classes were also videotaped so that others could see the presentation later, since there were up to three sessions going on at one time. It also offers the presenter the opportunity to critique his or her own presentation skills.

Along with these discussions, three guest speakers from outside this company addressed building commissioning, liabilities relative to coordination, and the design of sports stadiums. The two-day event finished up with a recap of what was learned.

As a participant and an outsider looking in, I was encouraged to see this company-sponsored engineering conference. For those of you that read this column regularly, you will note that I often address what’s right and wrong with the building industry. This conference was “what’s right” and why we continue to enjoy this interesting and challenging business. It was refreshing to see up-and-coming engineers present technical papers, challenge the issues, network with their coworkers from other regional offices, and manage the entire two-day conference. Other firms should take note of this investment by a company in its employees.

Return on Investment

Three weeks after the conference, I attended our own company’s engineering meeting. This event is a semi-annual meeting where we bring approximately one-third of the employees into the home office in Minneapolis. The goals parallel the other company’s goals, and that is to address technical issues, allow the employees to participate in the business process, and to allow them to network among their coworkers from other parts of the country (and Asia).

Some of the topics that were discussed were:

  • Information technology and how we use these systems as business tools;
  • Business development and what our regional office goals would be in 2000;
  • Legal issues relative to contracts, presented by an attorney;
  • Insurance issues on the same topic of contracts, presented by an insurance company representative; and
  • Breakout sessions by business product.

All too often, companies are criticized by its employees relative to various issues, right or wrong. When companies invest in their employees to contribute and to participate in improving the company product, as well as improve their own performance, it is worth noting. Such investments can be costly when you add up the travel, lodging, and meal expenses to bring people to one location. Add on the cost of employees not “job charging” their time while they participate in a company sponsored event and this investment can climb quickly into the thousands of dollar range.

So what does a company get in return for this investment? Better-educated employees. More outgoing engineers — which is a scary thought! Engineers with better communication and presentation skills. And hopefully, employees that recognize that success is not measured by total annual earnings. In addition, employers will also receive a return on investment with employees who appreciate the opportunity to participate through job satisfaction.

One More Chance

With the 2000 ASHRAE meeting coming up in Dallas next month, there is another opportunity for companies to invest in their employees. There will be a wealth of seminars, forums, and symposiums presented. If you can’t get a few employees to the meeting, at least invest in some of the technical papers and share them with the rest of the firm. Investing in employees is really investing in the success of the company, and this will require a team effort.