For the first week of October, I found myself working shoulder to shoulder with nine of my competitors and hundreds of trade contractors I'd never met. The job? Tear down a house and build a new one in less than five days. It was simultaneously an act of insanity and one of the greatest experiences of my life. Medfield is a small town southwest of Boston. In early September our local building inspector received a call from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. ABC had selected a Medfield family, the Johnsons, to receive a home makeover. The Johnsons' youngest child of three, William, has spinal muscular atrophy, a disorder that leads to the deterioration of the muscles and eventually causes paralysis. The Johnson's house was falling apart and unsafe for a child in a wheelchair. The building inspector invited Mitchell Construction, nine other local builders, and an architect to discuss this special project. At this meeting we formed a coalition, eventually named the “Home Team” in honor of William Johnson's love of baseball.
Initially, I think I heard more reasons voiced as to why this couldn't work, than those saying why it could. “We can't tear down and build a house in a week,” was a common phrase. Another: “This site is too difficult to build a home that fast — too much ledge.” I had my own uneasiness, not about whether we could build the house in a week, but rather, how we could quickly get organized and focused as a team, which I felt was the key to success. I was also concerned about sharing details about my business with my closest competitors. We all had to bridge our fears to form an allegiance — any hesitation or infighting would surely doom a project of this complexity and speed.
As we continued meeting, a plan came together to organize the workforce. Each builder took on a specific role overseeing a certain phase of the project. One was responsible for site work, one for framing, another for mechanicals; Mitchell Construction would be in charge of overall project management, coordination, and scheduling. This division of labor not only gave everyone a clearly defined role, but proved crucial. With so many builders and so many different ideas, at times I feared that we would be locked into disagreements, polarized on how to complete a task.
Dealing with the ledge and outcroppings was a case in point. There were as many opinions as there were builders. We used a little piece of everybody's opinion to come to a decision. Then it just took somebody to say, “That's what we're going to do and let's move on.” It was a turning point. The group dynamics went from being polarized to a synergistic operation where we got everybody going. In the end, we worked with the ledge instead of against it.
As it turned out, those were some of the best meetings. Although during the planning stage we were tired, emotionally drained, and short of time, in reality these meetings brought us together and helped us forge a team. After the project ended, I discovered my concerns about sharing business details were irrelevant; in fact; I subsequently have been able to go to competitors for advice.
In the end, this story is more about people than about building a house. This is the story of a caring community, of a family with the humility to ask for help, and of the tradesmen and volunteers who were thrilled to use their skills to help others. I made many new friends, particularly the nine other builders and countless tradespeople and volunteers with whom I now share a unique bond. It was a rare opportunity to build with true purpose, to give something of real value, and to see immediate results. I feel blessed that God gave me this humbling opportunity to work for others. There are people with great need all around us and, surprisingly, teammates where you least expect them.
—Tom Mitchell is president of Mitchell Construction, a design/build company located in Medfield, Mass.