Collaborative Teams: Creating Alignment

March 15, 2011

This article, second in a series, explores the role of collaboration, emerging technologies, and performance measurement in alternative business models. Employing alignment strategies around clear project-value propositions establishes a foundation for collaborative teaming. The previous article addressed the role of collaboration and emerging technologies.

Deep collaboration is enhanced when teams are aligned around the value propositions established by the owner. This requires a clear understanding of the owner's goals and objectives in relationship to the project-delivery methodology. Value propositions are key to ensuring teams are prioritizing correctly, developing the best solutions, and understanding how to deliver success and satisfaction to the owner.

Owners strive to communicate the scope and goals of the project during the request for proposal, but rarely address the project's impact on key business results. Requirements are often unclear, resulting in a lack of clarity for the project team when setting priorities, identifying risks, and determining best value solutions. Ensuring the owner has clearly defined value propositions enables the team to work toward the business results that drive the project.

The Power of Alignment

Alignment empowers a team to engage in deep collaboration. It ensures teams are working toward the same objectives and highlights areas of incongruence, allowing teams to proactively address conflicts and risks.

Team alignment creates that common understanding. It brings about action through a shared purpose bound by individual engagement and accountability. Team alignment requires that all team members, regardless of role, give deference to project goals over their own individual desires and considerations.

The act of alignment creates congruent project objectives while seeking to understand individual needs for a successful project delivery.

Once value propositions are clearly defined, teams are empowered to align the project. Project alignment creates a system of systems made up of people, product, processes, and production methods that clearly support defined project goals and expectations. This project alignment optimizes the sum of the whole to achieve overall project objectives.

Optimizing the project team's procedures as a delivery system is imperative in delivering new collaborative technologies such as BIM (building information modeling) and lean methods. Continuity of team alignment is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve without the proper project alignment.

Why Is Alignment Important?

The cost of misalignment can manifest in many ways. Examples are non-value-added activity, cost increases, damage to credibility, and disengagement of team members. Projects inherently start off misaligned. Fiscal outcomes are a good example. Owners want to pay the least amount for a project. Service providers want to be paid as much as possible. This divergence is reinforced if value propositions are poorly defined, becoming more complicated as inefficient processes are established.

Traditional delivery methods often rely on the implementation of historical processes built in silos of responsibility. Transactional contracts segregate scopes of work and transfer risk. They often require hierarchical communication that creates waste and churn. Processes become fragmented based on each team member's company goals and procedures, allowing the rift between the project goals and each team member to grow larger. A project team member must feel protected by the environment or they will protect themselves from the environment.

When teams come together with an understanding of what partners need in order to meet expectations, people engage on a higher level to make each other, and the project, more successful. The alignment of the team with each other and project goals ensures team members are positioned to harness creativity and innovation, without engaging in unnecessary risk.

Emerging technologies are often dictated as requirements by the owner with each project team responding to how it can individually deliver these tools. In reality, to fully exploit these methodologies, you must have collaborative team-operating procedures aligned around shared objectives.

Understanding how these technologies assist in the delivery of value and defining how team members participate in using the technologies is imperative to their successful deployment.

Strategies For Building Alignment

There are many strategies for building alignment. Often IFOA (integrated forms of agreement) are used in creating the crucial conversations leading to an understanding of project and team goals. The concepts introduced in the IFOAs are focused on defining how people intend to work together, which introduces new expectations and perceived risks the parties need to understand.

The challenge with IFOA contracts is that many owners, the legal system, and insurance agencies find this new form of agreement hard to grasp as much of the language promotes shared accountability instead of segregated responsibility. As new players are introduced, they must be assimilated with the same diligence, validating his or her goals are aligned with the rest of the project team. Integrated project delivery promotes early team formation, which strives to align critical parties early in the process.

Another strategy employed on several projects is a new role: the project facilitator. When projects are going well it's easier to collaborate and execute on the project objectives. As problems arise or risks are introduced, team members often revert to legacy behavior, protecting themselves and their firms. It's at this point that collaboration is impacted as team members no longer feel empowered to participate safely.

Facilitators must guide the team members keeping them true to behavioral objectives and protecting the interests of the project and the individuals together.

New project measures need to be implemented that validate not only project outcomes but project processes, ensuring that team members can trust others to perform and that the collaborative technologies are working.

Collaboration requires teams aligned around mutual goals, allowing them to be creative, flexible, and adaptable. Creating a "team culture" that quickly builds foundations of trust through defining value propositions and aligning teams around project and team objectives lays the foundation for deep collaboration. This results in efficient, effective, and responsive delivery of the construction project.

Clay Goser and Dawn Naney are consultants with Symphony LLC, www.symphonystl.com, St. Louis, Mo. Clay can be reached at claygoser@symphonystl.com and Dawn can be reached at dawnnaney@symphonystl.com