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3 Roadblocks to Building Effective Teams on Construction Projects

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Because of the nature of construction projects, building effective teams is challenging. In other work environments, like within a manufacturing firm, there are captive team members who have vested interest in a single organization. But on construction projects, the team members often change from one project to the next. Team members might work on more than one project at a time and are members of numerous teams. The traditional delivery methods used for construction projects encourage competition among the participants. And the way risk is measured on construction projects encourages adversarial relationships among participants.

There are several roadblocks to building effective teams, and in the construction industry, the first is the issue of transparency. But more importantly, when transparency fades, so does trust.

1. Lack of Trust
In the “Building Workplace Trust 2014/15” report by Interaction Associates, Inc., with surveying done by IDG Research, more than 50% of respondents said their organizations did a poor job of promoting trust. 40% said they didn’t have high levels of trust in their leaders or in their organizations. Companies that are trust-leaders outperform in customer loyalty and retention, hold competitive market position, exhibit ethical behavior, have predictable business and financial results, and grow profits.

So, if trust is such a game-changer at the organizational level, what are its effects on construction projects? According to the Construction Industry Institute, when trust issues arise on a project they affect how well participants deal with changes, constructibility, contract administration, risk allocation, and solving disputes. Trust issues also derail effective communication. In short, lack of mutual trust is a harbinger of increased project cost.

You can build team trust by asking people to let you know how they feel about decisions that will affect them. You also have to communicate effectively so people understand why certain decisions are being considered. Also central to building trust is the aspect of empowering people by providing the tools and information they need for success. To make sure there is a shared commitment to the team goals, it’s important to own up to mistakes. People also need to feel they are valued, so when they bring up issues you should welcome their input. Most importantly, you should steer away from the command-and-control decision-making style and chart a course to a collaborative process.

While lack of trust is a prime factor in construction that hinders the success of building effective teams, there are two more factors that also come into play.

2. Ineffective Leadership
Globally, companies spent an estimated $45 billion in 2013 to develop leaders, and schools like Rice University are rolling out programs aimed at developing the leadership skills of every student, not just selected ones. The effectiveness of leadership in project teams is a key indicator of team success. According to Phil Harkins, founder and executive chairman of Linkage, well-integrated and high-performing teams always have leaders who create environments where:

  • There are clear goals and the “vision” is communicated
  • Blueprints are available to show how to reach the goals
  • Trust, forethought, and energy are encouraged
  • The right people are encouraged to get involved

Highly important, Harkins counsels, is that the best leaders communicate candidly and clearly, and they follow up their words with committed action. But, there are also aspects of communication among team members that require special attention.

To make sure there is a shared commitment to the team goals, it’s important to own up to mistakes.

3. Ineffective Communication
Top-down messaging often dominates organizational communication. However, a hierarchical approach to communication at the team level undermines innovation and makes communication ineffective. Early in the team’s development, they will go through a “storming” stage, according to the University of California, Berkeley, Team Building Toolkit. In this stage, the team members are familiar enough with each other to start expressing and finding their own voices within the team. It’s critical that those voices are heard and that the communication system supports that.

The multiple ways people communicate will no doubt cover a lot of territory. Voice, in-person, email, social media, and written documents will all figure into the mix. Some people are more comfortable writing and prefer email or social media, while others prefer talking. Setting up communication guidelines could be an excellent team exercise carried out early in the team’s development. When the team leader acts as facilitator to the process, it reinforces the idea that team members have a say and that communications are open. An effective system and its guidelines will tend to support the following characteristics:

  • People can interact directly and frequently with each other
  • People will feel that honest and open exchange of thought is encouraged
  • A process exists where people can surface issues and where they can resolve conflict
  • There is an effective system for handling documents and data
  • There is a system people can use for providing feedback and recognition

The roadblocks to building effective teams usually spring from ingrained processes and habits, whether personal or organizational. If you look at the team building process as one requiring thoughtful reconsideration of tired processes and habits, you’ll also gain new insights for improving all aspects of your business.


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