No firm or group is an island in the AEC industry. We’re always working with others, from teaming arrangements between firms to the necessary teamwork between a firm’s business lines and the groups within those business lines. Sometimes we act as support, sometimes others support us. That’s just what we do. And anything we do is always informed by the way we think about it.
It’s easy to think that if you’re working with another group, you’re partnering with them. But what really defines partnership? Great partnership is complementary, well-coordinated, and collaborative. It takes objectivity, awareness of self and others, and communication. And when we view working together as a partnership and cultivate that relationship, we can build a more cohesive team and better work culture.
I’ve long said that at Garver Buildings we’d rather have a little something than a whole lot of nothing. We’d rather be a part of the strongest team, the team on which our expertise and strengths are complementary to the other firms’ expertise and strengths, and provide the best deliverable to the client.
When it comes to teaming arrangements with other firms, you need to exercise objectivity. In what areas are you strongest? In what areas are other teams perhaps stronger? The goal, from a partnership perspective, is not to ensure through team configurations that your group would get the biggest share of the business. The goal is to be a part of the strongest team, the team with the best chance to win the project and deliver a high-quality result.
That partnership perspective extends to internal teaming arrangements as well, when you’ve got different disciplines working on different aspects of a project. Take Garver Buildings as just one example. Experts in several disciplines – mechanical engineering, structural engineering, fire protection engineering, electrical engineering, communications, security, sustainability, interior design – have to come together to design a building. And to do that we need to see ourselves as teammates and partners.
That perspective can change how your multidisciplinary teams interact. It’s more than just knowing who’s doing what; it’s consciously looking out for and being aware of how what you’re designing may impact the designs of another discipline or group. And then acting on that awareness by alerting each other, communicating, and collaboratively addressing any issues (hopefully before they become issues). Because at the end of the day, you need a design that’s well-coordinated – seamless – for the client.
That kind of internal coordination takes some planning – you have to have a tangible way to ensure you do it, not just say you’ll do it and hope it happens. This can be an evolving process in which you find what works best for you and your team. Make use of checklists, spreadsheets, and sequences. Develop standards and procedures that make the best use of those tools.
Communication tools like those can go a long way, but they can’t do it alone. The team has to talk. Looking for opportunities and creating opportunities for the team to meet and discuss their work is crucial.
Great collaboration with great results has deep roots in partnership. And those are features you can sell. If your team is multidisciplinary, ready and able to coordinate, collaborate, and deliver on designs, you’ve got a one-stop shop for clients. In this way, partnership becomes a product as well as being part of what leads to a high-quality deliverable.
Being aware of what others offer and how you can complement their work can also lead to innovation and growth opportunities. For example, the Buildings team is sensitive to the needs of outside architects. We now actively seek to partner with them, bringing our complementary skill sets in structural engineering and so forth to their projects to help bring their visions into reality.
The perspective we take is powerful; it plays a key role in our behavior. Working together to deliver infrastructure that improves lives is a given; no one is working alone. If we see our work together as a partnership and adopt a partnership-forward perspective, we can deliver more for each other and our clients.
John Watkins, P.E., S.E, is director of buildings services at Garver. Connect with him on LinkedIn.