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Knowing the right strategies and tricks for managing subcontractors can change everything about how you interact with your subs on your job. Here are 14 crucial steps for working with your trades and understanding the difference between calling them subs and trade partners. Let’s dive in. 

Disadvantages of Using the Term “Subcontractors”

You often hear people say “subcontractor.” While accurate, there’s a significant difference when you refer to them as “trade partners.” This terminology, learned from the Lean community, shifts the mindset from sub-optimizing their contract to recognizing their expertise and partnership.

Subcontractors vs. Trade Partners


  • Blame everything on design and don’t learn from job to job.
  • Schedule only their work with little regard for the overall project.
  • Rarely understand the schedule and do whatever they want.
  • Complain about everything and expect the GC to solve their problems.
  • Work independently without respect to customer service.
  • Always look to break rules and find loopholes.

Trade Partners:

  • Understand design difficulties and make provisions to work past them.
  • Schedule together to understand the flow and rhythm of the project.
  • Take ownership of the whole schedule, not just their piece.
  • Bring up solutions and work towards them as a team.
  • Coordinate directly with other trade partners to solve problems.
  • Strive to learn and adopt Lean practices.
  • Maintain clean, organized, and safe work environments.
  • Treat team members with good customer service.
  • Follow project rules and requirements, forming great relationships with the GC.

How to Support Trade Partners On-Site

  1. Become a Partner:
    • Be hands-on and supportive. Help trade partners integrate and provide a remarkable experience.
  1. Reward Good Trade Partners:
    • Stop rewarding the cheapest bids. Low bids often lead to higher costs due to incomplete scopes and change orders.
  1. Transparent Buyouts:
    • Ensure trade partners understand the schedule and expectations for proper bidding.
  1. Quality Preparation:
    • Hold pre-mobilization and pre-construction meetings and be present for initial inspections to ensure success.
  1. Get a Schedule with Flow:
    • Use takt planning and the Last Planner System for scheduling, ensuring a smooth workflow.
  1. Involve Trades in Planning:
    • Make sure trade partners are part of pull planning, look-aheads, weekly work plans, and daily planning.
  1. Provide a Safe, Clean, and Organized Project:
    • Maintain an environment where every trade can thrive.
  1. Create Proximity:
    • House all trade partners in one trailer to foster collaboration, connection, and effective communication.
  1. Take Care of Their People:
    • Ensure the safety, care, and respect of trade partners’ personnel on-site.
  1. Partner on Procurement:
    • Manage the procurement log together and assist with supply chain management weekly.
  1. Hold Them Accountable:
    • Enforce rules and standards to maintain respect among all trades.
  1. Resolve Problems at the Right Level:
    • Address major issues through higher management levels to ensure effective resolution.
  1. Pay on Time:
    • Prompt payment is crucial as trade partners are not banks. Ensure timely compensation for their work.
  1. Fair Change Order Negotiations:
    • Negotiate rates or prices beforehand and manage change orders kindly without undue pressure.


A mindset shift from “subcontractors” to “trade partners” fosters a more collaborative and successful working relationship. By following these 14 steps, you can create a supportive environment where trade partners can thrive, ultimately benefiting the entire project. Remember, taking care of your trade partners ensures they take care of you.

If you want to learn more we have:

-Takt Virtual Training: (Click here)
-Check out our Youtube channel for more info: (Click here) 
-Listen to the Elevate Construction podcast: (Click here) 
-Check out our training programs and certifications: (Click here)
-The Takt Book: (Click here)

Discover Jason’s Expertise:

Meet Jason Schroeder, the driving force behind Elevate Construction IST. As the company’s owner and principal consultant, he’s dedicated to taking construction to new heights. With a wealth of industry experience, he’s crafted the Field Engineer Boot Camp and Superintendent Boot Camp – intensive training programs engineered to cultivate top-tier leaders capable of steering their teams towards success. Jason’s vision? To expand his training initiatives across the nation, empowering construction firms to soar to unprecedented levels of excellence.

On we go!