Collaboration is Your Competitive Advantage

| February 22, 2017

by Brent Robertson

Brent Robertson

As building projects continue to get more complex and require more experts working together, the ability to collaborate has become the essential ingredient for success. For AEC firms, collaborating has always been an important way to get things done. Even so, it’s rarely considered a primary focus and doesn’t get the same attention as a firm’s “core expertise,” be it architecture, engineering, or construction. However, the firms that make it a primary focus will have a distinct competitive advantage over those that don’t.

Recently, I and other members of the Construction Institute facilitated a workshop that brought together a cross-industry, multigenerational group to discuss their experience collaborating with their clients and teaming partners. Besides universal agreement on its importance, the workshop revealed key insights essential to creating an environment that invites collaboration. Below are the results of the workshop.

Why does collaboration matter? Because it results in better quality projects, built more quickly for less overall cost, while being a more enjoyable experience for all involved. Specifically, collaboration invites more creative ideas, allows issues to be resolved proactively, and draws out the best everyone involved must offer. The projects, the communities they impact, and the people involved are more successful as a result.

When are the best times to collaborate? Right from the start, and when there is more than one party responsible for the success of a decision. Specifically, if effort is spent in the beginning, a team can be built that trusts one another, is clear and focused on a shared vision, and is looking out for each other’s success and the success of the project. The return on that effort in terms of quality, speed, and costs will be exponential.

What’s stifling collaboration? When conditions are such that members of the team have a primary focus on protecting their self-interest. These conditions include:

  • Not enough to go around, so everyone is fighting for their piece.
  • A vision for the project is either missing or uncommunicated.
  • Assumptions are made versus establishing clear understanding about the project and the team. 
  • Being afraid to disappoint, share ideas, put aside ego or internal politics.
  • No one assigned, or willing, to take the lead on making sure collaboration happens.

What are the ideal conditions for collaboration? When members of the team are working toward a shared vision and for the good of the project and the community it impacts. These conditions can be established by:

  • Creating a shared vision and defining clear goals with everyone involved (including the client) right from the start.
  • Making sure that every member of the team has what they need to be successful and satisfied. 
  • Establishing roles, accountabilities, and communication protocols among the team members.
  • Empowering the team to share where they see opportunities and limits to success.
  • Having the right perspectives in the right conversations at the right time.

Besides what’s above, as an individual, how can I invite collaboration among my team members? 

  • Have a mindset that collaboration is non-negotiable.
  • Recruit 10% of your organization to evangelize a culture of collaboration; that’s enough to create a tipping point.
  • Make it about asking the right questions, instead having the right answer.
  • Stay open to new ways of seeing and doing.
  • Listen to what others think.
  • Engage with everyone around you.

What are some specific examples of things that can be leveraged or generated to provoke collaboration?

  • A critical project constraint that forces the team to work closely together.
  • A vision for the project that is meaningful enough to bring everyone together.  

Conclusion. Whether you are focusing on generating more collaborative relationships with your clients and partners or you simply want to be a more effective contributor in a collaborative setting, any investment you can make being more effective is money and time well spent.

Brent Robertson is a partner at FATHOM, a marketing agency based in West Hartford, Conn.

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