Can Highly Collaborative Teams Exist?


people sitting beside 2 laptops

Can highly collaborative teams exist?

Look at the Scouts for an example. Having managed a Boy Scout Troop, a youth sports teams, and a multitude of environmental and construction projects, I have found that regardless of the size of the project, the age of the stakeholders, or the end goal, everyone expects the same thing: the opportunity to work together towards a common goal. I have seen a 12 year old scout lead a much older group of boys on a very demanding outing that ended very successfully. The troop’s success wasn’t determined by the boy’s age, his ability to lead by intimidation, or even superior intellect. They found success because the scout was able to understand the needs of the troop for this particular event, and work with the rest of the boys to ensure that everyone was integrated into a role that gave them the highest chance of success.

If understanding the needs of others and working together makes scouts successful, why does project management sometimes seem like a chaotic web of entities? In the web so often the owner is pitted against the contractor, the contractor against the subcontractor, while everyone is upset at the architect-engineering team when, in the end, everyone wants the same result. We work in an industry where communicating, scheduling, and budgeting are the keys to success, and there isn’t a day that lacks communication with a project owner, subcontractor, or architect. High performance collaboration should be the primary objective for every project. No one wants a project to fail, so why not take the time to set a solid foundation for collaboration?

In my role as construction project manager I am the link between executive leadership, the owner, and the internal/external project teams. Every project starts with essentially the same goal: bring the project in on time and under budget. In order to accomplish this, it should first be the goal of all project managers to integrate high performance collaboration into every project

Yet, despite the focus on high performance, how often is it truly achieved? And when it is, was it designed that way, or was it just dumb luck? Through continued research I have found the issues I experience are similar to those in other industries. Luckily for me, I have been able to learn from their success and failure, making changes to promote higher levels of collaboration.

According to Mickey Connolly and Dr. Rick Rianoshek in their audiobook High-Performance Collaboration, there are Ten Natural Laws of Collaboration. They include The Laws of Teamwork, Influence, Purpose, Listening, Conversation, Appraisal, Resistance, Failure, Consensus, and Appreciation. These laws, if implemented early, can be the difference between success and failure.

There are questions we should be asking as each project begins and throughout its lifetime:

  • Who is your team?
  • Are the right people performing the right tasks?
  • Has a project purpose been established?
  • Have you developed proper lines of communication?
  • Do you acknowledge the team supporting the project goals?

It has often been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. Isn’t it time the construction industry did a sanity check?

By understanding the needs of the project, utilizing the correct resources, setting clear, defined goals, and recalibrating when necessary, high performance collaboration is achievable in every project. The construction industry is structured to reward firms that are lean, nimble, and responsive to their client’s needs, and high performing, collaborative teams are the key to reaping these rewards.