All large-scale construction projects are at inherent risk of going over budget and schedule – late changes in design, unforeseen conditions and unexpected delays in permitting are a few reasons for time delays and cost increases. However, equally as guilty can be the people working the project. Poor planning, inexperienced leadership, lack of clear objectives and responsibilities, accountability and failure of the individuals working on the project to work as a team can have significant negative impacts.
Creating clarity of each team member’s roles and responsibilities is a positive start. This includes setting expectations for each member of the team and giving them a clear understanding of how their failure to perform their duties in a timely manner affects the other members of the team and the project. Simply put, if more time is dedicated to team building, setting clear expectations and getting “buy-in” before the work begins, it will greatly increase the chance of the project to stay on schedule and under budget.
Build a strong project team that works collaboratively: Like any business, the project site will have a company culture that must be defined in the planning stages. For large-scale projects, it’s important to establish a culture of trust, collaboration, open communication, shared responsibility and accountability. Bring the right people on by hiring companies and individuals with the right experience and the right attitude. Promote a “problem solving” atmosphere where collaboration finds solutions, rather than the “hunt for the guilty” mindset. Equally, be prepared to get rid of those that don’t share this spirit and consistently drag the team down.
Partnering sessions set expectations of the culture: The development team (construction professionals, architects, designers, engineers, consultants and owner) all need to work together to insure the project is a success. A partnering session is where the project culture is introduced – here, members pledge to hold themselves and each other accountable. Clarity of roles are determined, expectations are set, and a commitment to communication is made so, moving forward, everyone is willing to speak up and offer ideas. If one team member fails to deliver, any person can address it and help find solutions.
The owner is an integral member of the team and project culture too: Open communication with the owner can greatly affect the outcome of a project and the owner’s perception of the performance of the team. Providing the owner with realistic outcomes based on their choices and assisting in establishing goals from the beginning allows them to make smart choices. These include identifying potential issues, schedule impacts, material and pricing options, and setting clear expectations of what information is needed from the owner and when.
Problem-solving is a team effort: Every project has challenges, but in a high functioning team, it’s everyone’s responsibility to find solutions to the daily challenges we face in construction – “problem solvers” versus “problem identifiers” makes a huge difference. One simple methodology for success was put forth by author Patrick Lencioni. In his book, “The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team”, he explains that the foundation of any team is trust. It’s the building of trust that encourages a commitment of healthy and productive dialog and eliminates the fear of conflict among team members. Those commitments promote accountability which ultimately end in “results.”
Be prepared to make personnel changes…quickly: Unfortunately, there may come a time when you have a member of your team that either dodges responsibility, refuses to be accountable or is the “problem identifier” rather than a solutions-oriented individual. Not everyone will be accepting or understanding of the culture, so individuals (or entire companies) may need to be removed to protect the health of the team and the project. After a reasonable effort is made to correct the deficiencies, the sooner the change is made the better. Keeping these members, regardless of their position, can have significant negative impacts on the health of the project.
Once the project team has experienced this type of project environment, they’ll love it. Regardless of how challenging any project may be, be proud of it and enjoy what you do. If you wake up in the morning dreading the thought of going to work, you are simply working on the wrong team.
Sam Nicholson is the founder and president of Grand Canyon Development Partners.