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By Neal Flesner with excerpts from Jim Eisenhart

During our partnering workshops, we stress the importance of owning project success as a team with no excuses. Part of truly owning the game as a team is managing issues at the lowest level possible, then escalating them to senior or executive management only when necessary.

As VCG President Jim Eisenhart discusses in his book, Raising the Bar on Construction Project Teamwork, a true World-Class team is energized by the shared commitment and mutual accountability of its team members more than by its senior management. Senior management, to be sure, creates the opportunity for team members to express this commitment and the opening for mutual accountability. They are the enablers, visionaries, and coaches as opposed to traditional directors and motivators, let alone controllers.

Explaining further, Don Eng of the City and County of San Francisco says in Jim’s book, “On World Class teams, less oversight than usual is required. On these jobs, I have a confidence level that we have a proven method of solving problems and moving on. Also, I find myself on the sidelines encouraging staff to act in support of the overall team goals and to try to make decisions at the lowest level as a team and come to me only if necessary.”

When one or more of your players comes to you with an issue, dispute or challenge, ask, “Have you checked in with your teammates on this?” or “Can you get back to me with some options that the team at the field level recommends?”

Reinforce the importance of a team or collaborative approach to specific problems and opportunities. Senior managers who are committed to World Class teamwork challenge the project team as a team. For example, you might ask, “Is this issue something that a joint task team might look into?” or “What if the subconsultant, project architect, our superintendent, and owner’s rep met to resolve this?”

Giving the project team the ability and freedom to truly own the game can involve walking a narrow line. At what point or on what type of issues should senior management intervene with a project team? When is doing nothing perhaps the best approach? Owning the game can also mean reinforcing or remanding the team that utilizing their conflict resolution ladder and escalating the issue up to senior management does not mean they no longer own the game.

Experienced World Class team senior managers should err on the side of not intervening too quickly, even with a highly charged, emotional dispute. Intervening can breed a dependence upon senior management which can contravene an owning-the-game mentality at the field level. Let them have at it, make mistakes, even fail and agree to disagree. If they’re reminded of their common goals, in the vast majority of instances, they’ll reach resolution or agree, perhaps with some nudging by senior management, to elevate the issue.

In Jim’s book, Wayne Lindholm of Hensel Phelps says, “My job is growing and selecting project managers who can get the job done and then letting them run with it. I try to get stuff out of their way that may keep them from being successful, but they genuinely need to feel that they own the game. But we do encourage them to ask for help and emphasize that is not a sign of weakness or inability. It is still their project.”

In a recent article by Joseph Grenny titled When to Solve your Team’s Problems, and When to Let Them Sort it Out,” the author provides some good insight into this topic. Grenny says, “If you’re an effective manager, escalations should be aberrations that you accept rarely and thoughtfully. Here are some questions to ask yourself and principles to follow to make sure you’re not stepping in when you shouldn’t.” READ MORE

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