Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can a Day Long, Formal Meeting Foster Better Collaboration?

By Marvin Kemp, AIA, CSI, CDT

In about one hour, I'll enter a day long meeting entitled "Building a Highly Collaborative Team." This meeting has been  organized by the construction manager for a large biomedical research building that I am involved in. The meeting will be attended by members of the design team, ownership team, construction management team and design-assist contractors. It will feature a moderator who I'm told is a psychologist. In one day, can this group of individuals build a "highly collaborative team" as the meeting title suggests?

I've attended similar "partnering" sessions before and in one word to answer my own question, no. Typically, these moderators come in with high energy and put construction toys on the tables, play ice breaker games and generally make highly skilled professionals feel childish and like they have wasted an entire day. I hope this one is different, but I'm not sure. The CM's project manager asked my advice and I warned him I against the usual moderator, toys and ice breakers. I think he heard me, but he has to answer to bosses just like I do, so we'll see.

In September of 2011, I posted an article on this blog entitled "A Decent Meal" where I described an end of project luncheon that might should have occurred at the beginning of the project. I suggested to the CM that maybe a long luncheon or barbecue type event might be a better way to foster collaboration. In my view, collaboration starts with familiarity and understanding. There is no better way to get to know people than to share a meal and each other's company. Talking about sports, children or other interests is great way to get to know people and better understand who they are and what they bring to the project team. When we better understand each other, our strengths and weaknesses, we can work better together.

Spending a day in a conference room, feeling like you should be somewhere else might foster resentment and force some to put up their defenses. Important things might be said that aren't heard because of a lack of attention being paid to the meeting. Childish, ice breaker type games are rarely taken seriously by professionals and provide little if  any true understanding of anyone or anything. In construction, we need to understand each other, understand where each of us is coming from, what our motivations are, and work together to reach a common goal.

I'll report back after the meeting with how it went, what we did and other thoughts on building collaboration. Wish me luck and follow me on Twitter @BaltoCSI.

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