What Construction Workers Can Learn from Ants
Focusing on the big picture unlocks a team’s true potential
Have you ever noticed a trail of ants working together? Maybe you’ve seen them swarm to drag away a piece of fruit many times their size. Or you’ve watched them form a living bridge with their bodies, working together to cross a gap or climb to a new height. They are tiny, but they’re able to lift and carry enormous burdens.
What is it that gives ants their strength in numbers? The same thing that allows any group of people to accomplish what an individual cannot, from rowing a longboat to building a skyscraper: focus and alignment around a common goal.
Focusing on What Matters
Ants are masters of staying on task and working together toward a common goal. It probably helps that they don’t have the same distractions that humans do. Ants don’t have phone notifications, don’t have to stress about inflation, never pay taxes, and probably don’t have to juggle careers and family obligations. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from their work ethic and single-minded resolve.
When everything is a priority, nothing is. By definition, focus means zeroing in on one specific thing at a time rather than trying to do many things at once. But being able to focus on a single objective can feel like a luxury we can’t always afford.
In the construction business, there’s no room to compromise on safety, workmanship, or craft. As general contractors, we can’t sacrifice our relationships with owners, subcontractors, architects and engineers, and our work teams. All of these things are important.
So how do we maintain focus when everything is important?
By looking at the big picture. When we understand the overarching goal, we can build alignment around it. On the job, the big picture is to finish the project on time, within budget, and to a standard of excellence. And, even bigger than that, the ultimate goal is to deliver on the Owner’s vision, serving the broader needs of the community, while staying committed to service and quality. We can take pride in our work knowing that we’re building a school that will educate the next generation, or a cancer center that will protect the health of our neighbors. That’s the real big picture we can align ourselves around.
So for us, it’s not a matter of focusing on a dozen variables. It’s focusing on one clear goal, and communicating to each team member how their role contributes to that endpoint. That way, each person can focus on their specific priorities, always knowing the common goal is on the horizon.
There is real power in aligning a team to a single purpose. But focus can also be a double-edged sword if you’re focusing on the wrong things or lose sight of the details.
This is most evident with workplace safety. We can’t focus so deeply on the task at hand that we lose sight of our surroundings. We have to stay aware of potential risks, whether it’s a spark from welding causing a brush fire, or a gust of wind blowing over a crane.
A lot of the distraction can be eliminated by building safety protocols into the work itself. Because we’re all focused on safety, we have processes we follow that contribute to the overall safety of everyone on the job. When you come to a Jaynes job site, you know that everyone there is committed to your safety just as much as you are to theirs, and you can trust that while you focus on your tasks, someone else will be watching your back.
And that, we believe, is a vital part of focus. Ants live in huge colonies for the same reason we build teams of workers with different specialties and responsibilities. It’s why we self-perform the work we’re best suited to, but maintain relationships with designers and subcontractors who specialize in their fields.
Focusing means understanding that we can’t be everything for everyone, and not trying to be. One person cannot possibly keep an eye on every detail. But the right team can handle every aspect of the job, focusing on their particular part of it, knowing how their work fits into the bigger picture.
Keeping everyone focused on that big picture goal is how we make sure everyone’s efforts are pulling in the same direction, so effectiveness is multiplied rather than divided. From contractors to carpenter ants, once a team is aligned to a common purpose, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.