Teamwork in the Construction Phase

What is the true mark of a team and why is it important? Glad you asked…The team concept is based on the idea of synergy, i.e. that the sum is greater than the whole of the parts. Put another way a group of people working together with a common goal can accomplish more than the individual accomplishments of each person added together. As a multi-sport, multi-level coach for more than 15 years I’ve seen first-hand what individuals can accomplish when they come together as a unit with a common goal. I have also witnessed the detrimental effect that even one individual with an opposing agenda can have on the potential of any team. The project team is no different in how it operates, and the same unity is required from in order to achieve the goal of a successful project.

Before getting into the makeup of the team, we should define what the goal is because without it, how can any team be successful? In sports this is simple…win the game! But in construction, the players on a project team may have different interests. In the most basic terms possible, the owner’s goal is to obtain the highest quality product at the lowest expense, constructed in the shortest timeframe possible, while the Contractor’s goal is to fulfill the requirements of the executed contract while maximizing profit, and the goal of Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) is to protect the interests of the owner by ensuring that the requirements of the contract documents are fulfilled by the Contractor from execution to final acceptance. With what would appear to be conflicting interests between team members how can we consider this group to be a “team”? One of the jobs of a coach is to rally his team around a singular purpose, especially when success seems unlikely. In this instance all players on the team share the purpose of a successful project. At NXL, we define a “successful project” as one that is constructed with strict adherence to the contract documents, minimizes the impacts to the traveling public and environment, is delivered safely, on-time, and within budget, functions as originally intended, and is constructed such that the life expectancy of the project is met or exceeded. But that statement omits the concern of one of the main players on the team, the Contractor. If the project team is to function with one combined purpose, a successful project must include the success of the Contractor as well. Were that same statement be altered to reflect the interest of the Contractor alone it may read something like “A project that is constructed safely, within the time frame agreed to, with expenditures below bid, and that is constructed to the satisfaction of the owner with minimal risk.”

There are plenty of obstacles to traverse in a game and on a project. One of the biggest detractors to the success of the team is attempting to cover up a mistake that has been made, or worse yet, attempting to transfer the risk to other team members. In sports, when a player makes an error, their teammates are there to lift them up, encourage them, and if possible increase focus and effort to make up for their teammate’s lack of execution. This happens because of the relationships built between teammates. The project team should be no different and should utilize the preconstruction conference to establish that relationship. While disagreements will most certainly occur, they must be dealt with in a timely manner and directly. In a professional setting all team members should be able to have difficult, even rigid, conversations about disagreements on the project and walk away understanding that the issue is not personal. In sports, we call that “leaving it on the field”. Another, more modern example would be the COVID pandemic. While it is understood that the pandemic hinders the ability to complete a successful project, the successful project team will use such an obstacle as a rallying point. Putting aside differences that would normally affect efficient execution and committing to working together so that all involved can succeed.

If success is to be achieved, the Owner has to accept that Contractors must be profitable to stay in business, and the Contractors must accept that the Owner must receive the deliverable that was included in the executed contract at the lowest price possible and within the timeframe stipulated. Empathy is defined as the action of understanding the thoughts, feelings, and experience of another and is tantamount to the success of the project team. The old school mentality of “us against them” must be replaced with an empathetic mindset that understands the concerns of the other members of the team. An owner whose top concern is pinching pennies, a Contractor bent on exposing the flaws in a contract by consistently submitting change orders or their intentions to file claim, or a CEI firm that remains unnecessarily rigid in the field all serve to jeopardize the success of the team as a whole. Considering this, maybe a more apt description of a successful project would be “A project that is constructed safely, with adherence to the contract documents, that minimizes risk to all parties as well as impacts to the traveling public and the environment, functions as originally intended, is accepted prior to the agreed upon completion date, and is fiscally advantageous to all project stakeholders.”

Please note that agreeing with the level of concern of team members is not a requirement. An owner may not agree with the amount of profit that a Contractor is seeking but should understand that they must profit from the endeavor. By subscribing to the team mindset all parties commit to conduct themselves in a manner that benefits the project first and foremost, which directly benefits each member of the team. The successful completion of a project should be celebrated with well wishes and a hearty handsha…errr…fist bump!

If your agency is looking to better understand the requirements of project delivery in the LAP program, we would consider it a privilege to conduct a lunch & learn session on topics of your choosing. If you are interested in advancing your program through a no-obligation training session, please contact Emily Ripka at 804.466.0455 (mobile) or eripka@nxl.com.

Written by Paul Moose, PE, Locality Program Manager