An article first published on LinkedIn on October 6, 2017
We work in a hugely adversarial system – the world of construction. You only need to look at the way procurement works to see that.
Firms who are supposed to be working together on a project for the benefit of the client find they can make more money by capitalising on the mistakes of other firms in the same design or construction team.
It’s no wonder that we’ve been talking about collaborative working since Latham and Egan in the 1990s and we still haven’t got it to work.
Starting from that basis, you might think that it isn’t surprising that the government’s mandate for BIM Level 2 on all their procured projects led to a huge range of organisations being set up to represent all the different interests and concerns of all the different parties.
And when an organisation was set up to unite that diverse set of groups (the UK BIM Alliance), it very quickly found itself getting bogged down in arguments about different ways of doing things. A many-headed hydra. A room full of chiefs and no Indians.
As a result, I’m extremely proud to have been part of the team that has begun to bring that group together. We’re only just beginning, and you may find it rather frustrating that you aren’t getting clear messages yet or aren’t clear about where “that BIM thing” is going next, but the foundations have been laid and things are afoot.
What makes it so difficult to get such a group working is that everyone is coming at it with a different perspective. You may be from a different profession; you may work for clients, or specialist subcontractors, or manufacturers. By the nature of our industry, you’re going to value your version of the truth above all others, and that’s understandable. But for the industry to start working collaboratively together, we need to move into a new frame of mind. We need to develop respect and confidence. We need new behaviours.
One of the things I did when I started working with the UK BIM Alliance executive team was to propose a set of three behavioural principles for the team.
These are now being added to the Alliance’s Terms of Reference. I’d like to share them with you now, together with giving examples of how using these principles we might be able to work better in our interest groups too, and in our work with other professionals.
Any organisation made up of specialists and representatives is by its nature made up of a variety of opinions and perspectives. Whilst this is essential for it to function, it also can cause problems for the people in the organisation.
These three objectives can help prevent meetings and activities from becoming frustrating and unproductive, and help us move into a culture of respect and progression.
1. Unity even if not agreement
“You are bound to disagree with your colleagues; that is why you have been brought together; to ensure the Alliance represents the views of the industry and can communicate with the whole of the industry in an effective manner.
“Embrace the fact that you will not agree, but commit to uniting behind the common decisions of the group. Take the opportunity to ensure that the group is aware of your perspective at the right time, and help the group reach agreement on the way forward.
“Do not bang on about a difference of view after a decision has been made. If you use your disagreements to sabotage the direction the group has agreed, you’ll be preventing its proper functioning. As a representative of the Alliance it is your responsibility to help find and then present the unity, not the disagreement.”
No doubt you’ve worked in an organisation where this wasn’t the case – where people could not unite behind an agreed way of proceeding with a problem. Sometimes people leave the organisation when this happens, and whilst this works with companies, we can’t have that happen with an Alliance that needs to reflect the situation of all parties. We need to put in place structures to come to agreement; we need clear, honest representation of the views, and we then need to make a decision and stick to it. To do that, we also need to adhere to the next principle.
2. Be happy in your own skin
“Everyone has their own specialism, their own role, their own representation. Make sure you know what your role is, and embrace it.
“Focus on fulfilling your role, and don’t feel compelled to tread on others toes or do their job for them.
“If you are unclear about why you are in the group, or unhappy with your role, speak to the chair to resolve the matter. With such a large job to do, we can’t afford to double up on work or repeatedly go over old decisions, we should be moving forward.”
I’ve often been in meetings where some people were only attending because they were required to. If those people were not clear about why they were there, or not confident about their own role, they could easily start treading on toes, speaking out for the sake of it, trying to justify their existence. This can be extremely damaging to relationships!
In construction, if we work on the contractor side, we need to hear the designer side if we’re going to work with designers, and vice versa. There will be some things we don’t know, and we need to be mature enough to accept that and learn from others.
3. Speak with a clear voice to your audience
“Each of us has a constituency we represent, whether it be an interest group, sector of the industry, or even our employer.
“Be clear about what that audience’s concerns are, make sure you support the work of the group by sharing these concerns, and taking responsibility for being the source of communication back to the group you represent.
“If the audience you are speaking to don’t understand the message, share this with us – it is our job to help you be a conduit of information. Take responsibility for ensuring that everyone who needs to know, does know, and ask for help if you need it.”
In any large organisation with many different parties involved, delegation is essential. As well as ensuring we unite behind the decisions of the group, we need to speak for the people we represent, which means the group must accept that voice too. Leadership is not instruction, it is inspiration.
For us, expertise is vested in the individuals, and that which keeps us from succeeding is preventing us from hearing those voices. Let’s listen and be conduits for those voices, and take it upon ourselves to have a two-way communications with them.
Start Talking To Strangers
So, there you have it. Unite behind the group, be happy in your skin and make sure you represent your constituents. That way we can start a culture of respect for diversity that values all perspectives, and see that diversity as a benefit, not a challenge, and find a way to make this thing happen.
Do you think these suggested behaviours can help the industry become more collaborative? What is your experience of taking a collaborative standpoint in your work. What did you learn? What did you achieve? I’d be interested to hear your views.
Images: Gaping Void Art (Creative Commons) click links for sources