There exists no shortage of metaphors espousing the importance of collaboration, or lack thereof. This idea is just as applicable to commerce and construction as it is to politics or family relationships. As the famous Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided itself cannot stand.” Or, as Booker T. Washington put it, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”
Sadly, while collaboration is a popular buzz term in construction–and in fact, everywhere–it’s used so frequently that its true meaning has been diluted. Look no further than the hoard of motivational posters that litter offices nationwide. Despite the prevalent abuse of this term, it nevertheless has deep meaning for those willing to look for it.
So what does real, quality collaborative construction look like? And what steps can you take to improve it at your firm? Let’s dive in, below.
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What Is Quality Collaborative Construction?
“Collaboration in construction” can easily become an overhyped catch-all for anything that involves two or more players. But while an email exchange or telephone conversation, or even a forty-person board meeting, all require communication, they’re not necessarily representative of quality collaboration.
In reality, communication and collaboration simply aren’t the same thing. According to FSD, “Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something. Communication is the imparting or exchanging of information or news.” As you can see, the two activities have different functions. While both imply interaction, only collaboration involves actively working together toward a common goal. Collaboration might require communication, but it has its own set of traits.
What exactly are those traits? Let’s take a look.
What Does Successful Collaboration Look Like in Construction?
So what does successful collaboration look like in construction? Overall, successful collaboration is characterized by streamlined workflows, in which everyone knows their role, knows who to go to get the information they need (i.e., knows how to communicate properly), and feels safe completing their duties and allowing others to finish theirs.
More specifically, collaborative construction does the following:
It Builds Trust
Trust is the foundation of good collaboration. In its absence, individuals and departments tend to prioritize their own tasks and goals, often at the expense of others. As we’ve explained before, this kind of trust gap is one of the most common causes of cost overrun.
Bottom line: If team members do not trust each other, collaboration will not thrive
Therefore, all processes and communications should be built on a foundation of shared trust. This is the only way to achieve actual collaborative construction. Creating a culture of trust is an absolute must at your firm, so we’ll discuss this more below.
Collaboration should not be a hurdle or extraneous from regular job duties; if it’s hard, it won’t happen. In contrast, successful collaboration is easy. It allows team members to collaborate at the same time, intuitively. Seamless collaborative construction is usually the result of a smart application of tools and approaches, again discussed below.
It Is Inclusive
Real collaboration should be built on inclusivity. Plenty of research and thought leadership today shows that inclusivity is far and away a better strategy for growth than exclusivity, which often leads to stagnation. Usually, this is referring to diversity in terms of background, ethnicity, age, and experience. However, inclusivity is also essential when it comes to access to information. When information is tightly controlled, no one is well-served.
Collaboration in construction must, as a result, involve everyone. In collaborative environments, everyone on the project team can collaborate on all things that relate to their job roles. Even if specialty contractors or external stakeholders need to be bridged in, good collaboration systems will allow them to do so without additional barriers.
It Depends on Clear Roles and Responsibilities
In addition to bridging all team members in, for collaboration to be a success, there needs to be clear roles and responsibilities. Everyone should know which piece of the pie they are responsible for, and workflows should be set up to where each additional person involved knows the next chain of command.
It’s true that delegation brings some risk, which is why companies that truly prioritize collaborative construction will acknowledge this upfront and address it, rather than living in a fear-based, exclusive and partisan world.
It Prioritizes High-Quality Communication
While we noted the differences between communication and collaboration above, it’s important to understand that communication is essential for collaboration. According to an Autodesk and FMI report, “Almost half of all rework is due to poor communication among project stakeholders, and poor project information.”
To put this another way, projects are coming in behind schedule and over budget simply because the managers, workers and stakeholders responsible for them can’t figure out how to transmit information, ask and answer questions, or store documents effectively. That’s a major fail in collaboration.
Intelligent, successful construction firms avoid this by setting up cloud-based, easily accessible systems that make it easy to upload and download documents, view them in real-time, mark them up, ask and answer questions, request information, interact with the system off of WiFi and in remote environments, and more. At all steps of the way, communication must be prioritized.
If you aren’t sure your company is meeting these requirements, there are several steps to take to improve collaboration in construction.
How to Improve Collaborative Construction
Collaboration in construction is a work in progress. You won’t experience perfect collaboration immediately, even after implementing these steps. Similarly, even the best-run organizations need to pivot in response to market changes, stakeholder demands or worker needs. By pursuing the following goals, however, your company will become more flexible and better able to handle the demands of the field:
Make Culture the Foundation for Good Collaboration
Start building a culture as a foundation for collaboration. This culture should:
- Prioritize trust and clear communication
- Value autonomy and flexibility, but puts checks and balances in place
- Share one vision, a common goal towards which everyone in the company works
Often the contract and project delivery mode becomes essential here. Companies focusing on outdated delivery methods will often experience delays and fall behind those that use cutting-edge approaches such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) paired with Lean Construction.
Prioritize the Right Tools
Collaborative construction needs to exist in real-time. If something isn’t communicated at the right moment, it could cause collaboration failure, which is why the right tools will host all communications the moment they happen, usually through the cloud.
Accordingly, you need systems that make collaboration easy. They must be intuitive to use and centralized, so that everyone has access to them without having to trek in from the field to an office, print out documents, and risk them becoming obsolete by the end of the day.
You also need systems that do away with old, siloed models. Centralized and connected communications ensure that everything goes through the one system, rather than separate systems like email and other software, which would otherwise create confusion and duplicates. This creates an integrated ecosystem that makes collaborative construction almost the default.
Plus, the right collaborative tools should integrate with the current tools and workflows your company is using so that there are no conflicts and you don’t end up fixing what isn’t broken.
Aim for Continuous Improvement
Collaboration is a never-ending process. The goal should be continuous progress, not perfection. Think of it as a series of course adjustments bringing you closer to a culture and environment that encourage:
- Mutually beneficial exchange of information
- Peaceable resolution to questions and problems
- Trust and respect between formerly siloed departments
- Unified progress toward a single goal: the completion of a project on time and on budget
When It Comes to Collaborative Construction, the Future is Now
It’s time you start actively putting collaboration first through the intelligent application of tools, the right project delivery methods and a culture that begins the moment new workers come on and new projects kick-off. Remember, a house divided cannot stand, so collaborative construction is a must.
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