Toolbox Talks

Posted by Marcel Donnelly on Dec 31, 2018 10:26:00 AM

Why do sports teams have quarter and/or half-time breaks? Whilst hydration is important this is only half the story. Getting the team together helps everyone realign their focus, and gives the coach an opportunity to communicate what they are seeing from the box that may not be apparent to the individual players.


When you’re out there on the front line and focused on your own role, being able to see the big picture can be tough. What’s happening on the other side of the field? What strategy are the opposition playing? Getting that overall perspective - and intel - from another pair of eyes can be invaluable in enabling everyone to work together effectively as a team.

The same is true in business. For your team to work effectively together, regrouping at regular intervals gives everyone the opportunity to share information about what they see and experience on the front line. In turn, team members can share what’s happening elsewhere in the business. A great way to do this is through Toolbox Talks.

What Are Toolbox Talks?

The term ‘Toolbox Talks’ is often used to describe regular team meetings around Health and Safety. Although, regular get-togethers are a good way to remind teams about staying safe at work, why stop there? Make your Toolbox Talks an opportunity for open communication, sharing of intel, and feedback on business practices, both yours and those of your competitors.

What are your plumbers seeing on the front line? Are they experiencing a drop in success rates? A lull in call-outs? Losses on usually-lucrative jobs? Changes to a supplier’s products? Are they finding that a particular approach does – or doesn’t – lead to success?

This is the forum for your plumbers to say what they see, and for those in the office to listen and take on board the feedback. At the same time, it’s the role of the support team to feedback what they see from their angle – the coach’s box – and offer up suggestions to help the team achieve even greater success.

How Do I Get Started?

Setting up your Toolbox Talks requires little effort, but there are a few important things to make them a success, and worth the time everyone invests in them. Here are some tips to get you started on the road to a more open – and successful – business:




  1. Logistics: First decide when and where to hold your Toolbox Talks. They need to be convenient enough for all to attend, and to not disrupt business as usual. One hour, fortnightly or monthly, at HQ or somewhere neutral like a café, over a provided brekkie or after-work drinks are good. Set-up a skype or phone-in option for those unable to be physically present – the goal is to get as many people participating as possible. Play to the rhythm of your own business and what will get the best attendance.depth-of-field-photo-of-two-pilsner-glasses-681847
  2. Environment: Create an open environment where people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their thoughts, both positive and negative. Maybe set some ground rules, such as off-limits topics to be discussed in designated sessions, i.e. salaries, or a ‘no interrupting’ rule. Trust is key – make it clear it’s a safe space to speak up in, you care about what your people have to say, and that there are no negative consequences or hard feelings to be had.
  3. Why, and WIIFM: Humans respond better when they understand why they are being asked to do something, and ‘what’s in it for me’…the ‘WIIFM’. A common goal is a good way to engage and unite everyone – what are you trying to achieve for the business, and each person within it?
  4. Make people feel heard: Often, it’s the quiet ones who have the best ideas, so make sure everyone is heard, not just he who shouts loudest. Listen equally to everyone’s input, and even if you disagree with what’s said, remain neutral and thank everyone for their contribution.
  5. Lead by example: Your team’s willingness to be open and vulnerable will be a direct reflection of your own willingness to do the same. Share your own thoughts and ideas in a relatable way that opens the door to others stepping up and doing the same.
  6. Take action: Your team said their vans are looking tired, your competitors are handing out leave-behinds resulting in their phones ringing more than yours, or their software is slowing them down? Don’t ignore what you hear. You can’t fix everything, but if things never get addressed, people will stop speaking up. Take action, and follow-up on what you’re hearing.
  7. Recognise and reward: Mick brought in a great corporate contact, Cam shared some intel on a competitor’s planned promotion, allowing you to launch your own promo first. Thankyou’s are nice, but recognising and rewarding them goes one step further and adds to the WIIFM. It doesn’t have to be big, or financial – it might be as simple as a monthly best idea trophy, or $50 behind the bar on Friday night.
  8. Keep it up: First Toolbox Talk went pretty well? Great! But don’t stop there. Make open communication an ongoing part of your company culture.

Introduce an instant messaging system like chatter so your people on the road can easily communicate and share intel regularly. Perhaps, you’re more of a suggestions-box-in-the-tearoom workplace; this works also. Again, make sure you lead by example and practice what you preach.

Toolbox Talks are just the first step in opening up an ongoing dialogue across your business. Because whilst your business can survive without open communication, very few thrive without it.


Topics: Tradespeople