Contributed by Marvin Kemp
At CONSTRUCT 2014 in Baltimore, I gave a presentation called "Building A Highly Collaborative Team." At CONSTRUCT 2017 in Providence, I gave a similar presentation called "Symbiosis: The Importance of Collaboration between the Owner, Architect and Contractor." (Editor's Note: This session was teased in this Let's Fix Construction post from August 29, 2017 here)
Both presentations were based on my experiences in construction over the past 20 years and focused on three projects from the past 15 years. In those presentations, I offered 7 strategies for increasing collaboration on construction projects as examples of real world ideas to help the attendees in their jobs. While space won't allow me to give all the background to the stories like I did in the presentations, I think these are still good strategies for anyone involved in team projects, whether in construction or not.
Strategy 1 - It's Sometimes Okay to Work Around Obstinate Team Members
We've all seen them: the one team member who is obstinate or obstructionist and unwilling to compromise. The person who will say the sky is red when the rest of the team says its blue. That's okay. Some people welcome negativity and thrive in that environment. It does not have to bring the whole team down. Work around that person by improving communication with the rest of the team and doing your best to avoid unprofessional situations. As the team gels and everyone does their job and holds each other accountable, the obstinate member will be revealed for the obstructionist which will make the team's success shine more brightly.
Strategy 2 - Communicate More, Email Less
Nearly everyone in our society carries a smartphone in their pocket. The operative part of that title is "phone." Yes, it is a powerful computer that can facilitate messaging in multiple formats - text, email and social media - but it is a phone. All of those other message formats are one-directional: the sender messages someone who can choose to reply or not. Telephones are truly two-way communication, so use it and embrace it. Face to face, two-way communication will always be superior to one-directional email or texting. However, we can't always answer our phones. When you receive someone's outgoing voicemail message, leave a message. Don't rely on them to look at their phone and see that you called in the caller ID. And when you receive a voicemail, return the call. It sounds simple, but many of us simply don't do it. We say we're too busy or we'll get to it tomorrow. Have some common courtesy to return the call, even if it is to say, "can we talk more tomorrow? Your communication with the team members will increase exponentially.
Strategy 3 - Recognize the Situation
Whether good or bad, recognize the situation that you are in. If you're put in a tough situation, recognize it and work to make it better. Try to make other's jobs easier by doing your job better. If you do that, you will be appreciated as a go-to person and a team player. Your job will then be easier. Also know that all projects and teams have a culture that is cultivated in the early days of the collaboration. Sometimes it's a good culture and sometimes it's a bad culture, but recognize what it is. If warranted, buck the culture in an effort to make things better.
Strategy 4 - Top Down Collaboration
Behaviors start at the top of teams: with the highest managers and executives. If the top leaders buy in to what needs to be done, the rank and file employees will fall in line. It is imperative that leaders exhibit and practice good collaborative behaviors in order for the team to be successful. Show up early for meetings and be prepared. Listen first and then speak. Have respect for the other team members, their needs and their goals. Seek consensus. If our leaders do all of these things, our teams will function more collaboratively and be more successful.
Strategy 5 - Tension Breeds Tentativeness
Bad news is right around the corner. Sometimes you can see it coming and sometimes you cannot. It is almost better when you don't see it coming because many of us become tentative when we see it coming. Tentativeness can lead to the unhealthily form of tension on our project teams. Be willing to embrace the bad news because being tentative will not make the bad news go away. Embrace it, work to fix it and then the whole team can move on. Be a part of the solution and you'll feel better about the news because you worked to solve the problems.
Strategy 6 - Take Care of Your Business Because No One Else Will
In many project teams, perception is reality, however unfair that might be. If you or your firm presents an image of low confidence, low performance or timidity, the rest of the team may move past you. That's a corollary to Strategy 1. Be confident, be believable and be right and things will go more smoothly for you. Being right does not mean always having the answer or knowing everything there is to know. Sometimes the right move for you and for the team and project is to take time, research, analyze and discuss before acting. That is the definition of "taking care of your business."
Strategy 7 - Don't Be Afraid to Communicate and Hold Others Accountable
I saw a presentation once that said projects fail for 1 of 3 Reasons:
These are simple ideas but ones that are not always easy to practice. It takes work to be able to do all of these every day. I welcome all comments on this list. It is not inclusive, but is a list of things that we should all do in our day-to-day lives, whether work or personal, to make things better.
(Editor's Note: Want to speak at CONSTRUCT in Long Beach, California in October? The call for sessions is open until 1/31/18 at midnight. Read more here.)
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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