I remember when I first realized that I needed to split my production workers into multiple crews. At the time, I was working in the field with about eight employees. We were maintaining primarily condo associations and master homeowners’ associations. We had three trucks and trailers outfitted with mowers, trimmers and blowers.

We all pretty much went from job to job together. We would knock out plenty of work this way, and generally we could get several large jobs done every day. As soon as we finished the mowing at one site, a few people would move on to the next job and start mowing there. The other trucks would follow, and by the end of the day we ended up all at the same property. We would get it done so fast that a customer once came out and said we were like ants on a doughnut.

When your company gets to a size where it’s more than just you and a few other people working, it’s time to start thinking about breaking into separate crews.

Someone needs to step up

When I made the decision to do this I had to figure out who would be in charge of the new crew. I figured we would keep one big crew and split off three people to make another crew, and I wanted someone else to take charge to see if he could handle it. I finally decided on “Joe” to run the new crew. He had been with us the longest, he knew the jobs and he was pretty responsible, so I gave him the opportunity to be our first real foreman.

At the time, we really didn’t have much in the way of job descriptions, so I just told him what to do. I came up with a route that I thought three people could handle and had him take care of those accounts.

I knew I would have to check his jobs from time to time, so I added that to my responsibilities. I also would keep running the big crew for the time being with the thought of eventually letting someone take over.

I was really pleased to see that the new crew actually did a very good job. Joe seemed to improve as an employee and took the responsibility of that route very seriously. Also, the crew that I was running got more efficient, and a few people started stepping up because they knew I was looking for someone to eventually take over.

In hindsight, I think I should have separated the crews earlier, but I was afraid they wouldn’t do a good enough job without me being there all the time to supervise them.

Not everything went as smoothly as all of us would have liked. We had our share of speed bumps as we adjusted to the change. At the beginning we just had to do it and make it work, which is what we did. We learned from our mistakes. And eventually we developed job descriptions, evaluations and benchmarks for our foremen to shoot for.

Characteristics of a leader

If you are at that point where you feel it’s time to put someone else in charge of a crew, then you probably need to start planning to do it. Look at your employees and start evaluating them.

Do you have an employee who is always at work on time? Does that individual take responsibility for his or her work? Are they easy to manage? Are they willing to learn? If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, then it might be time to give that employee a shot as a foreman.