Cross Training an IPD Must-Have

Posted on September 18, 2010


As I have written before, empathy is very important to understanding the patient experience as a health care designer.  In fact, it is a key human trait and skill, so much so that empathy was one of the six attributes author Dan Pink selected as a right-brain essential for future career success in his book, A Whole New Mind. Empathy is important in understanding anyone’s point of view, and this is very important when people join together to design and build a project. 

One way my company, Haskell, helps instill empathy is to cross train. Cross training has many goals—capability redundancy, cultural literacy, well-roundedness—but empathy is a biggie. Everyone in the design, engineering and construction side goes through a multi-stage crash course on what each of our different parts of the A/E/C side of the company do, outside of general orientation for new employees.  More uniquely, Haskell offers the ability for a contruction professional to learn to guide the architects and engineers, and for architects to learn construction.

The latter is one of the most coveted cross training opportunities because an architect or engineer will actually transfer out of her department and learn project management as if just graduating from college. She will be trained in all aspects of how a building is estimated, bought out, phased, managed and constructed. Part of this training is time on site:  working on site, away from family and friends for months or years. I wrote in the past about how difficult it is for designers to get field experience, but the APM (Assistant Project Manager) position is a really valuable way to get construction cross training through intense immersion.

Integrated Project Delivery works best with team members who truly understand another’s position, as a negotiator might put it; they understand what issues are most important and how someone approaches a challenge. IPD relies on a special team chemistry which is hard to achieve with a patchwork team. Cross training fosters empathy essential for IPD, but also offers four other important benefits:

1)  It establishes respect.  Without knowing what another person must do day-in and day-out, it is tough to truly respect their accomplishments, demands and expertise. Sure, everyone pays lip service to respecting everyone else, but after cross training, a person sees that job in a different light.

2)  It promotes true understanding.  It is a true epiphany, almost an out-of-body experience, when you can fully see something as someone else does. This perspective is not easily simulated; it is best created in trial-by-fire that cross training delivers.

3)  It describes boundaries.  How often do we assume someone can get a task done without knowing the full story? Try to go through one day without making an assumption. By walking in the shoes of another, the limitations a person must deal with become evident and mental adjustments help ground us in what is possible, and what is unreasonable, to accomplish.

4)  Cross training strengthens collaboration.  Learning even a small piece of someone else’s expertise can really spark innovation because new ideas come from synthesis. New knowledge grows from adapting what is known to new parameters, which are best explored in the work environment through the eyes or job of another.

So many people are concerned about mastering their own job they shun any opportunity to “confuse” their own approach or “waste time” with anything tangential to their daily demands. Like reading a new book, cross training is a chance to escape and see things in a new way, ‘through the eyes of a child’. The benefits from cross training are not a gimmick, but real insight to do a job with new vigor and effectiveness, and they are crucial to IPD project success.