Tim Gerrits leads the Sports practice at GMB, with an emphasis on turf fields and tennis facility design. He has combined his background in landscape architecture and planning with a passion for sports and competition.
With over 25 years of experience, he’s helped design over 45 tennis facilities, including over 175 post-tensioned courts.
He loves building teams at GMB through overseeing the people development team. And he loves seeing athletics teams grow through great competition spaces.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for Learning Insights. Brought to you by TrainingPros. When you have more projects than people, TrainingPros can provide you with the right L&D consultant to start your project with confidence. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:27] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of Learning Insights, and this is going to be a good one. But it’s important to recognize our sponsor at TrainingPros. Without them, we could not be sharing these stories, so please support them. Today on Learning Insights, we have Tim Gerrits, and he is with GMB Architecture and Engineering. Welcome, Tim.
Tim Gerrits: [00:00:46] Hey. Thanks, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:47] I’m excited to learn about what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about GMB Architecture and Engineering, how are you serving folks?
Tim Gerrits: [00:00:53] Yeah. So, we’ve been serving folks for about 50 years. And I think over the last, you know, five to ten years, we’ve made a lot of changes that we’re really excited about and we’re going to talk about today. And client-wise, we are in the education sector. We’re architects and engineers, of course, and we look for ways to help them make their students successful.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:16] Now, let’s talk about the culture at GMB. I know that’s very important to you. And being an employee-owned company kind of makes it a special place, I would imagine.
Tim Gerrits: [00:01:25] Yeah, it is. You know, you talked about culture, and culture is kind of a hot topic right now. Explaining it, explaining culture specifically, is not always easy. So, often, you hear things like it’s a family or it’s people first. But I think for us it kind of comes down to two really important things. One is our teams and the other is the strong personal relationships they have with each other. And all of that is kind of built on the idea of trust.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:57] Now, how did this kind of – I think you called it the team of team structure, how did that kind of come about? Was that always the intention when it was started? We’re going to do this. This is going to be kind of employee-owned. Was all of this at the start or is this something that evolved over time?
Tim Gerrits: [00:02:14] I think it sort of evolved in some ways. And then, we had kind of an aha moment. What we found is that, when we were a smaller organization, we saw how our teams were working. And as we grew a little bit larger, our organizational structure was kind of not working anymore. And in a sense, leadership basically found that decisions weren’t being made as quickly as we needed to.
Tim Gerrits: [00:02:39] And we ran into this book, Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal, and it talked about the Army and how the hierarchy that the Army had was limiting how decisions were being made. And so, we started to say — we break up into teams. We have teams, everybody’s on a certain teams. And it’s those links that become really important between all those teams and decisions that don’t need to go up to a hierarchy model in our minds. And we don’t really, as leaders, always know the answers to those questions either. And so, let’s leave that in a system with the right people making those decisions. So, it’s an interesting book. It’s good read. And we’ve just found that we needed to change our framework and write it down so people understood it internally.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:36] Now, when you were making this kind of a shift, it sounds like a lot of it is a mental shift for the leadership to say, “Okay. It’s going to require trust and really good communication in order to pull this off.” Right?
Tim Gerrits: [00:03:48] Yeah. That’s exactly right. I think trust is a big one where, without that, you do go back to the hierarchy model where we need to make all the decisions. So, it’s really empowering our people who know the right answers to it. We, as leadership, sometimes we’re getting asked questions we didn’t know. And so, we really revert to those teams and they’re really responsible as a group, not as individuals, but as a group making those decisions. So, that’s something where we really have noticed in the teams, though, we need strong personal relationships. And so, I think something unique to us is we make time for our employees to build personal relationships.
Tim Gerrits: [00:04:34] And so, I will give an example a little bit of how a team might work or might not work. And I’d use kind of your neighbor. If you had to have a new neighbor move in and your spouse said, “Hey, we should go meet them.” And you don’t go do that and you don’t do it for a year. After a while, you might find that going over to borrow a cup of sugar isn’t going to happen. What we do right away is make sure our employees get connected with another person and many people. And, therefore, we think that communication amongst our team has improved. So, in that same analogy with the neighbor, if you know them, you’re willing to go ask them difficult questions or ask them for their help.
Tim Gerrits: [00:05:16] And it’s that same kind of idea with us as we carve out time. And that time in our world is called pods. Every day for 15 minutes, our employees meet, mostly for social interaction and to help understand each other. And with that, it creates, I think, a care component for each other. It also creates some empathy of what they’re going through and how another individual might be able to help them.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:42] Now, when you’re doing this kind of work and you’re kind of leveling up the trust and the communication, the collaboration, by putting in place kind of these core values that say if you want to be part of GMB, this is how we behave, right? And you’re kind of setting a standard of expectations. And so, there’s no surprises here. How did you handle that transitionary period when, you know, you were going to go from the old way to the new way? Because I think that this requires a level of – it’s almost like less ego, right? Because you have to kind of be for the team. I think this could eliminate some politics and some, you know, kind of jockeying for position. And this is about me.
Tim Gerrits: [00:06:30] It’s a great point, Lee. I think what you find is, you have to find people who want to win as teams or win as a teammate and not as an individual. And what you find after a while, they start to find that it’s more enjoyable to win as a group. And I think the part where you let your guard down is you don’t need to know everything. But you need to surround yourself in a team that will help you build that ability to know everything or most things, you might say. And that is something that mostly people have a hard time with. We’re expected to know everything. No, you’re not really expected to know everything. And for that matter, you might have somebody on your team who is much better at the thing that you’re struggling with. And so, there is a little bit of letting go and doing what you’re good at and finding those and having those people surround you that can support you.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:26] Now, how do you kind of amine everybody’s incentives so that everybody feels like they do win when the team wins and they don’t have to be kind of the Lone Ranger that’s, you know, running with the ball to the finish line?
Tim Gerrits: [00:07:40] Yeah. I think you’ll find in teams when they’re functioning well, they take cues from each other. We have certain things that are highly encouraged of, you know, what we call, Friday shout outs for, “Hey, this person is on my team and they really did this well.” Or, “They helped me with this in banking.” And it’s sort of what you encourage that starts to get that idea of it is really different. We have had it in interviews where people maybe just don’t quite understand it as well. Like, “Well, do I have a boss?” And it’s like, “Well, your teammates really are your boss,” which is a big shift for people to understand. Some people don’t, maybe, embrace it as quickly. And some people say, “Hey, that’s just not for me. I really like the hierarchy of our world.” But we think things are changing and we think we really benefit from efficiency, but also enjoyment of our staff in how they work.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:47] So, I would imagine you’re discussing, “Hey, everybody. We’re going to kind of pivot to this team of team structure and it’s going to look a little like this and then less of like how it used to be,” how did you know you were getting traction where, “Hey, this thing could work. I think this is the right way to go.” Were there kind of some clues when you were doing this that, “Hey, let’s really lean into this. This is something that’s going to be powerful and really change our company.”
Tim Gerrits: [00:09:16] I think people genuinely want to feel empowered in the work they do, but they also really want to understand what is my role in the day-to-day operations and how is that clear. And what we try to do is, really put names on all these teams and what their responsibilities are. So, we have different teams for design that really can help influence that. We have others that are more technical in nature and they can influence that. And others that really look at our process, for example. And when people are in the right seats – you’ve heard that from other individuals say that – they really excel and they feel empowered to make those decisions instead of having to go ask somebody else. We’ve really said, “No. That’s your call. You know more about that subject than we ever will.”
Lee Kantor: [00:10:11] Now, how does kind of the sharing of knowledge work? So, I’m on a team and then maybe I’m doing some cool and innovative, how do I share that best practice with other teams that, maybe, I don’t interact with a lot?
Tim Gerrits: [00:10:26] Yeah. So, you’ll find that people are on multiple teams. So, there are cross links where, “Hey, I’m on these three teams, so I know what’s going on in the other teams so I can speak up and say, ‘Hey, this team is doing that.'” So, there is that, what I can say, if you think of a bunch of teams and they’re all in their own little bubble, we can have links across from one team to another because Bill might work on three teams and one of those teams that is in question of what’s going on, on that team, he can address that.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:06] And then, is there somebody who’s kind of has the bird’s eye view of all the teams and seeing, “Hey, we don’t have a link here between these teams.” And is there somebody kind of –
Tim Gerrits: [00:11:18] Yeah. So, we’ve kind of created a map. We’re using a program called Peerdom right now. And that’s kind of a mapping program to help us understand how these links happen, and specifically what everybody’s responsibility is on that team. So, this is a new exercise. We’re just starting. We’re really excited about it. But it’s meant to add some clarity to our whole organization. We have 135 people, and as you grow, it’s harder to share knowledge, it’s harder to share information, and it’s harder to keep everybody on the same page. And, frankly, people weren’t sure as we grew who to ask those questions to.
Tim Gerrits: [00:11:56] So, this system, although kind of complicated, it’s kind of free flowing. If a team no longer needs to exist, we also have to say it either solved its mission and it doesn’t need to happen or they’re done with their assignment and we move on. So, it is kind of a once always there, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. It is evolving and we’re trying to figure it out. So, in a few years, it might look a little bit different again, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:27] Now, how has the pandemic impacted your work? Were you always remote workers or at one point were you all in one location? And so, were those kind of serendipitous moments and those kind of accidental collisions happen is easier. And when you’re remote, that takes a little more intentionality.
Tim Gerrits: [00:12:46] Yeah. So, when the pandemic hit, we have four offices. We were all in offices. Now, of course, we have clients that are, you know, at different sites so we move around. But for the most part, people had a seat at a location. When the pandemic hit, we went 100 percent remote with the exception of one individual still at this point. And I think a lot of the things we put in place over the last three years, specifically, have made this transition actually go very well. We feel confident in what we’re doing. We’re excited how it’s going. I think it’s both the team of teams and it’s really about the pods that we created, those social groups that meet every day for 15 minutes. It’s kind of a lifeline to make sure people are truly cared for and don’t fall through the cracks. And it really became more and more important.
Tim Gerrits: [00:13:47] We have other committees, like Connections Committee and things like that, that make sure that we’re interacting and whatnot. But the pods really are kind of the glue that said, “Hey, I think someone is still struggling. We can do something.” Or, “Let’s have a happy hour with a smaller group.” It’s basically taking a larger group and creating smaller groups within the hole and making sure nobody falls through the cracks and everybody is really cared for. I always say, if you have at least one friend at work, you’re more likely to stick around. And, really, the pods itself has been a way for an individual to build friendships and, maybe, specifically a closer friend.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:32] Now, if you were giving advice to other folks that maybe are struggling in this area and maybe don’t have it together as well as you do, is this something that you can kind of do at a small level, a test level, a beta level? Or is it something you kind of got to go all in and say, “Okay. You can’t do this a little bit. You got to either do this or don’t even bother.”
Tim Gerrits: [00:14:56] Yeah. It’s interesting. It’s like how does this resonate with other companies and organizations? I think there is a lot of letting go of saying, “Okay. There are other people that can answer this question better. I’m empowering you to do that.” But first, I think, you have to have employees you really trust that can carry out kind of the same vision. And without that trust, it’s really hard to probably pull it off.
Tim Gerrits: [00:15:26] Some critics would say, “Well, why do you meet 15 minutes every day just to talk socially?” Our understanding would be, that probably still happens in some way. But we, as an organization, say, “No. It’s really meaningful. It’s important. And it impacts our work.” It makes our work better because our employees actually care for each other and know each other. And by knowing each other, they’re more likely to go ask some difficult questions or things that they’re working out or to admit they don’t know something. And so, it’s good — all in. I think it is always baby steps, but it probably starts with letting go a little bit and trusting your employees. And then, maybe creating kind of like, “Hey, this is our organization, let’s try to map it out and draw what it really looks like so people understand it.”
Lee Kantor: [00:16:18] Now, talk a little bit about GMB University, how did that come about? Was that something that you put in place early on or was that something that you were like, “Hey, we’re going to have to formalize some of this stuff, and write stuff down, and map this out a little bit tighter.” I would imagine at first it was a little chaotic because there was a lot of trust and collaboration happening. You were just saying, let’s see what happens. But then, you got to kind of rein it in a little to make sure it’s efficient.
Tim Gerrits: [00:16:42] Yeah. So, I think GMBU or University started really with the idea of we have people who know things in our office. But as we grew over one hundred individuals, people weren’t sharing that as well as we thought we could. And so, we took time out of, basically a-day-and-a-half, every quarter with the entire staff and said, “We’re all going to get together.” And there are certain topics that our whole office needs to hear and understand. They may not always be engaged in that activity or that information for our client that they need to produce. But it’s good for everybody to know it.
Tim Gerrits: [00:17:26] And so, we had our internal people making presentations, which we thought was also good for increasing their ability to give that in practice. But then, we also brought in outside speakers. And then, it also gave us a chance to kind of cast the vision that you just mentioned where we’re saying, “Hey, this is where we’re headed. Does that all sound good?” And so, that is important that everybody kind of says, “Hey, this is at least where we’re headed that’s why we’re doing it.” And we didn’t do that in isolation. A lot of it was workshops within that, where we’d all get together and say, “Hey, what’s important to our organization? What do we want to keep?” And being able to allow our employees to say, “This part is garbage, let’s get rid of it.” And sometimes you just need to accept that.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:13] Now, doing this kind of work internally throughout the organization, has this trickled out to the community as well? Is this something that it kind of encourages and enables your people to really help their community? And maybe some of this learning and culture can kind of permeate outside of the walls of GMB, but also into Michigan and the other areas you work in.
Tim Gerrits: [00:18:37] Yeah. So, we have a just cause, you know, back to the idea we’re all working for the same thing. And the just cause for us is, basically, to make this world a place where our clients are equipping students for lifelong learning, and that’s our goal. And with everybody kind of headed in that same direction and excited about it, we feel like, “Hey. Nothing can stop you,” you might say. And there’s passion towards that. So, I would say, we are looking for clients that somewhat feel the same way, that education is critical to creating a better world. And so, finding those employees in the future that want to work for us, that have that goal, but then mostly just those clients as well that kind of have that same passion.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:32] And then, has it played out that way? Are you finding that people that are attracted to GMB are those folks that they want to be part of the team, they see the value of that? And it’s a point of differentiation amongst your competitors.
Tim Gerrits: [00:19:46] Yeah. I think, on the just cause, we’re trying to be more and more clear with our interviews that this is important to us and we want it to be important to our employees. And asking questions in those interviews to say, “Hey, does this resonate with you?” It’s a little bit harder in an interview. But, you know, you can start to understand a client, what their mission is, what they’re excited about. And so, it plays into that as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:18] This would be interesting. Do you have a piece of advice regarding that? Like, are there clues that a prospective client or prospective employee kind of share or give out that is like, “Hey, this is going to be something that’s going to fit in here.” Is there a question you ask that maybe shines a light on that? Or is there a behavior you look for or a past activity they participated in that is a clue that, “Hey, they’re going to fit in there.” Like, is this something that maybe somebody with a military background is better in this or somebody in a sports, played sports. Is there a certain things that kind of align?
Tim Gerrits: [00:20:59] That’s interesting. Our interview process, I think a lot of it is – and I hear it when I’m in interviews and when others are – “I think he’s a really good teammate.” Or, “Is she a really good teammate? Would I enjoy this as a conversation we have some time, which is sort of unique. Would I enjoy a long ride in a car for three hours with this person? And what would that feel like and look like?” And so, I think the teammate thing is critical. It doesn’t need to be an individual sport in terms of architecture. How we do good work is when we are all collaborating and communicating really well. And those communication skills, the ability to not feel like you actually have to know everything, so a little bit of humbleness that maybe we look for. Architects are not always known to be humble. And so, maybe that is something that maybe we should look for. I haven’t really thought about that.
Tim Gerrits: [00:22:04] But what we do, it needs to be much more important to the individual that we interview, the goal of the team and the goal of the client is way more important than any award or individual achievement that they maybe have had in the past and hope to have in the future.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:25] Well, it seems to be working. You’re recognized as one of the best and brightest companies to work for. And some must be working there. You figured something out.
Tim Gerrits: [00:22:35] Well, I will say, you don’t always have it all figured out, but you have to have the attitude that we’re going to try to figure it out. And, frankly, I think we have a lot of great people that we rely heavily on through the whole of the organization to help make this better. “Not just leadership,” you might call it. It’s about all of us and creating an environment that we all really want to work in and that we’re all really excited about servicing our clients.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:02] And when you have that bigger why, I think it’s easier to find folks that want to get behind it and be part of that journey.
Tim Gerrits: [00:23:09] Yeah. I think if it’s real and that’s part of your heart, our clients realize that. And when they realize we’re as excited about pushing their mission forward and that we’re a teammate to make success in every one of their buildings in a school district or at a college or university, they get excited as well. And it’s a team thing, you know.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:38] Now, what do you need more of? How can we help? Do you need more talent? Do you need more clients? What can we do to help you? What does GMB need?
Tim Gerrits: [00:23:46] Hey, you know, I think both of those things are what we’re looking for. We’re looking for people out there that have a passion for education, both clients and new employees. And really want to excel on a team environment where we all kind of win together. And that we can, in fact, influence the world by creating spaces where education is delivered to kids in the most exciting ways and in ways that they can flourish and influence the world in the future. So, yeah, it’s both end. And people who want to work with an architect who really wants to be a teammate. You know, not on the sidelines just creating a space. But really creating spaces that are impactful for generations to come.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:39] Now, if somebody wants to get a hold of you or somebody on your team or learn more about GMB, what’s the website?
Tim Gerrits: [00:24:45] Website, just search GMB Architects and Engineers and it’ll come up. And we’d love to hear from anybody. And if people have questions, don’t be afraid to reach out.
Lee Kantor: [00:24:58] Well, Tim, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Tim Gerrits: [00:25:03] Well, thank you, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:25:05] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on Learning Insights. And remember, this work could not be done without the support of our sponsor, TrainingPros. Please support them so we can continue to share these important stories.
Outro: [00:25:19] Thank you for listening. For more information about TrainingPros, visit their website at training-pros.com.
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