Collaboration is Elusive

Posted on May 26, 2010


Collaboration to most artists means seeking temporary inspiration from an unlikely source to gain creative synergy. In some instances, an injection of unique insight from an unrelated perspective can jumpstart a project. In the design world graphic designer Bruce Mau has always been an outspoken advocate of cross-pollination from diverse industries.  His collaboration with architect Rem Koolhaas produced the influential tome S,M,L,XL in 1995, provocative for its written content as well as its graphics.

Collaboration in Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)  is different. Collaboration for architects, engineers and builders is focused on building a team and maximizing performance for a better building. Some aspects are as simple as a commitment to play nice with others. Other skills are subtle and require not only professionally accomplished, but emotionally intelligent individuals as well. 

As Scott Simpson of Kling Stubbins was quoted in an April 2009 Architectural Record (AR) article on collaboration:  “Collaboration is an attitude more than a process.  Participants assume that each member of the team has something valuable to offer,…”  I belive this is very important to IPD; team members must want to learn from each other and understand each person is more knowledgeable in some aspect of the project than anyone else, and therefore is valuable to the whole project outcome. As a side note, Scott Simpson is also a featured speaker at the AIA Florida Convention in Ponte Vedra this year in August, if you care to hear him speak.

Successful collaboration requires several important, but much more difficult to achieve, considerations like trust and dedication to a common goal. I feel there are four crucial aspects to collaboration that are also strengths of the integrated design-build (IDB) delivery model.

1)  Team construction.  Assembling a team is the first step, and an often overlooked one.  At Haskell, we all work together on the same projects, so there is no need to introduce the architect to the engineer or the contractor; we are one-in-the-same. Non-integrated teams must rely on the other ‘team building’, the verb, a.k.a. the forced group activity of trying to get strangers to know each other quickly in the hopes of functioning more productively with them later. To paraphrase Jim Collins in Good To Great, as long as the right people are on the bus, integrated design-build can figure out where to go.

2)  Project leadership.  With design-build there is single-point responsibility, so leadership is unambiguous.  Quality leadership solidifies trust and maintains high performance in a collaborative environment by getting everyone involved from chief engineer to client representative to subcontractor. The design-build leader invites any innovative solution that can make any part of the project execute more effectively.

3)  Communication methods.  To pull another quote from the AR article, “Transparency, openness, and a willingness to share information,” are very important. At work, our team have these down to a science. What could be more collaborative than walking twenty paces down the hall and talking over a field condition with a project manager? Or calling the structural engineer to meet downstairs over coffee for ten minutes to discuss a site photo that came in that morning?  Electronic CA tools do not hurt either.

4)  Team rewards.  Regardless of how talented team members are, if goals are not aligned, collaboration is useless. An integrated design-build team is a single-goal team by nature because we all receive paychecks with the same signature on them. No jockeying for position or favoritism, no lobbying for a bigger piece of the pie. The next project depends on the current one, and we have one master:  the client.

Many firms and teams pay lip service to collaboration, but true accomplishment of, and success through collaboration, is elusive.