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Why trust and collaboration are vital during preconstruction 

With the rise of collaborative project delivery methods like design-build and integrated project delivery (IPD), the need to develop trust between project partners during the preconstruction phase has never been higher. 

According to our recent report with FMI Corporation, “Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust,” 43% of the highest trust construction firms make collaboration central to how they work across projects. But given the realities of today’s industry, how can construction firms effectively foster trust and collaboration? To learn how it’s done, we resurfaced insights from a panel held during last year’s Autodesk University: “How ENR Top 40 GCs Do Preconstruction.” 

During the panel, preconstruction leaders from Mortenson and McCarthy shared just how important trust and collaboration are during the preconstruction phase, plus how they work to foster those conditions at their organizations. 

Collaboration between design and estimating is key

According to both Mortenson and McCarthy, one of the largest process changes they’ve seen in recent years is an emphasis on collaboration between key players during the preconstruction phase, especially when it comes to the relationship between design and preconstruction planning. 

“We’re experiencing an evolution of design integration,” said Angeline Gleason, Director of Preconstruction at McCarthy. “Now, architects and structural engineers are working side by side with the general contractor. There are increasingly more design-build projects and a renewed push to align design with estimating and target budgets.”

Doug Heinrich, Estimating Director at Mortenson, echoed this experience. “Ten years ago, we transitioned from preconstruction managers (which were largely estimators) to design phase managers,” he said. “Now, our project managers, estimators, and architects all work together to get a more well-rounded viewpoint.”

When all of these roles feel equally heard during preconstruction planning, it also has an impact on long-term results. Our report found that employees of firms where trust and collaboration are highest are much more likely to go above and beyond when it comes to helping each other, with 49% routinely exceeding expectations in their work. These organizations foster a more positive working culture that will, in turn, deliver better results for the business. 

Construction is a team sport—from design to build and beyond

Sixty-three percent of construction firms today report not having “very high” levels of internal trust, which can lead to missed deadlines, increased rework, and lost profits. That’s likely why preconstruction teams are working hard to build more trusting relationships with both other internal project stakeholders, like field teams. Fifty-seven percent of “very high” trust organizations regularly hold collaborative project planning meetings, as opposed to just 33% of “average” trust organizations. 

For Mortenson, this means collaborating with field teams earlier. “A few years ago, we started treating our field teams as a client and involving them from the beginning. Now, we don’t have hand-off meetings—it’s more of an ongoing transition,” said Doug. “It all depends on the project, but often, field teams are involved months before the start of construction. They are implementing the plan, so they need to be involved in creating that plan, too.”

According to Angeline, McCarthy has made the same transition toward enhanced internal collaboration, with a special emphasis on the “We-Not-I” mentality that’s been deeply embedded in their company culture. 

“For my team, ‘We-Not-I’ means all departments work together during the preconstruction phase to effectively develop budgets, manage the design, and develop bid packages. We strive to focus on the overall goals and strategically bring in resources from business development, IT, VDC, design management, and operations to ensure we are getting diverse perspectives and to reduce the amount of data and history transfer to the field teams.” 

To achieve this culture-based approach to organizational trust, construction firms have to make opportunities for people to collaborate—and they have to start early. When project stakeholders are given a detailed picture of the plan and a clear direction for their role early on, the process will run more smoothly for everyone. 

Developing concrete tactics to foster collaboration and trust

Even with a clear understanding of how critical internal trust is to long-term organizational success, it can be difficult to nail down exactly how to foster it. 

“We’re constantly working to gain alignment between business development, preconstruction, and operations,” said Angeline.

“We want everyone to have an idea of how their partners fit in the big picture of a project’s lifecycle.” 

Angeline brought up the role of education in helping promote future collaboration within the business. 

“With a young workforce replacing seasoned professionals, it’s imperative that we develop our new preconstruction generation as quickly as possible. One strategy is to cross-train by cycling individuals through the various phases of a project—from pursuit to estimating to design management to construction,” she said. “This encourages teamwork and a better understanding of a project’s lifecycle to help prepare preconstruction professionals to develop a successful plan. It’s difficult to plan construction when you haven’t been in the field managing construction, and it’s difficult to construct/build when you don’t understand the plan or how to develop one.” 

Doug mentioned the importance of looping in stakeholders early, especially when they’re scattered across different offices and locations. 

“My biggest piece of advice is to get everyone involved in the conversation as soon as possible, show them the value, and get buy-in,” said Doug.

“Trust, communication, and collaboration: it sounds cliché, but it works.” 

Why trust and collaboration matter 

Sure, trust and collaboration sound nice—but they can often feel intangible when it comes to producing hard business results. What’s the concrete payoff of becoming a high-trust construction organization? 

According to the previously mentioned report, companies that build high levels of trust can save millions of dollars annually from benefits that include lower turnover rates, fewer missed schedules, and more repeat business.

Specifically, we found that high trust firms are: 

  • Half as likely to encounter the problems that commonly arise if data isn’t shared fast enough. Eighteen percent say this rarely or never happens.
  • Twice as confident about meeting project schedules and budgets. 
  • The most enthusiastic about taking on repeat work with collaborators across the construction ecosystem.

Interested in learning more about the role of trust in construction success? You can download the full report here.

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