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Ask SmallBiz: Building Teamwork on Construction Projects

Photo: David Croxford

Question:
I am involved in a construction project whose contract provides for performance-based penalties and rewards. What can I do to help get all the companies to work together?

Answer:
It’s essential that people who work together have good communication, teamwork and strategies for resolving problems that may arise. This can be accomplished in the process called Partnering, which helps all parties recognize that success depends on teamwork.

At the heart of Partnering is a guided retreat at which stakeholders are encouraged, with the help of a trained facilitator, to get to know and understand each other and their contributions to on-time and on-budget performance. The retreat also allows for undistracted discussion of the project. Guided question-and-answer segments help people begin to think and work together, discuss the key steps of the project and address how to avoid conflicts.

Two key documents and a plan of action come out of the retreat. First is the “problem escalation ladder,” which spells out the steps participants will take to prevent misunderstandings and address problems before they become intractable.

Second, participants create a charter or mission statement that spells out how they will work together. The charter might include commitments to

“communicate clearly, cooperate as a team, and resolve issues fairly in a timely and professional manner.” The charter is signed by the heads of each company, enlarged on poster boards and hung in the construction shacks so every employee clearly sees that this is a Partnered project.

Partnering recognizes that an investment of time and the skills of a trained facilitator are required for diverse groups to best work together as a team.

Regular meetings, at least every two weeks following the retreat, enable stakeholders to revisit the charter and problem escalation ladder as part of progress reviews on the project. Partnering helps ensure that projects are completed with fewer conflicts and delays, and with greater success and fulfillment enjoyed by everyone.

Partnering also works beyond the construction industry. The process can be used by trade groups to bring together companies that would normally compete, to facilitate a long-term joint venture, or to help implement a merger or acquisition.

Jerry Clay is a partner in the Law Firm of Clay Chapman Iwamura Pulice & Nervell and 2013-15 Board President of the nonprofit Mediation Center of the Pacific

gclay@paclawteam.com
(808) 535-8405

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