As a partnering facilitator on challenging building projects, I can share that effective communication among team members is the best offense in managing risk on any type of project.

On a design-build hospital renovation project that I recently facilitated, project challenges related to unknown conditions and owner additions triggered each stakeholder’s conventional risk management strategies—such as case building and communicating entirely through emails and letters—all of which led to distrust and further decelerated the project.

Fortunately for all involved, the builder’s senior project manager was committed to finding a better way.  His approach was to consult with the medical director and the entire project team.

The manager asked the hospital medical director: “Tell me what is really, really important to the medical staff and patients?”  The medical director quickly replied, “Getting the [operating rooms] up and functioning with their HVAC.”

The construction team then quickly agreed verbally on “partnership goals” (no contractual obligation) to achieve the above and then committed to a collaborative process to attain them. Participants now had a team offense that significantly trumped each individual stakeholder’s pursuit of their own best case defensive game plan.

While it often takes some work, project teams who collaboratively hammer out and communicate shared goals tap the full creative potential of all participants and generate positive outcomes.

Furthermore, we’ve found that at least 85% of a project’s risks or problems can be identified by a team after it has set such goals. And, they can all be turned into opportunities for team success.

Peter Drucker, a leading 20th century management thinker said: “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not solving problems.”

The manner in which project team members communicate with one another is also crucial. Communicating through emails and letters is a common risk management strategy that can defeat teamwork and waste at least 60% of your time and your team’s time. Except when communicating data or facts, create a team behavioral protocol that calls for personal meetings or verbal conversations. If necessary, you can back up the discussion with a confirming email or letter.

Create a process so the team holds itself and its members accountable for their commitments and recognizes and reinforces team achievement. This includes developing a protocol to deal with non-team players—a huge, potential risk if not resolved quickly.

It’s OK to agree to disagree, but develop a conflict resolution protocol to elevate disputes early while keeping trust intact and the project moving forward, and you’ve succeeded as a world-class team—with no excuses.

How do you want to play? Each stakeholder pursuing his or her own defensive game plan or all playing a very compelling offense as a team?

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