By Neal Flesner, VCG

Effective leadership has a great impact on any construction project and plays a key role in its ultimate success or failure.  Our experience tells us that the engagement and support of senior leadership in the partnering process is crucial to project success.  This seems like a no-brainer, but all too often, senior leaders are absent from team meetings or partnering sessions or don’t fully engage when they are present. It’s evident they are not involved beyond the role of a management figurehead for their firm.

On the other hand, some senior leaders might be engaged throughout the entire partnering process, yet have trouble pulling the trigger when it’s time to make a critical decision. This leads to varying results and questions from the team as to what happened and what could have been done better. 

The role of leadership in both of the above scenarios is not only ineffective, but could actually hinder a project’s success. To create a positive impact on any project, leaders should follow the six rules below for future partnering sessions and team meetings.

 1.  Show up

This first rule might seem obvious and not worth mentioning, but there are two categories of showing up. The first is in the literal sense. The prerequisite for any successful job is having leadership in the room at every meeting. This reinforces the importance of the partnering efforts and demonstrates leadership’s commitment to the project.

However, just being in the room doesn’t cut it. Some leaders on large, complex projects say they are committed to the partnering process, yet arrive late and pop in and out of meetings. Or even worse, they spend the day talking or texting on their phone, not really engaging with the team. Great leaders all lead by example and show up, engage, participate and encourage the same level of commitment from other team members.

2.  Listen, process, repeat and reframe

Critical thinking from leadership is a must. The most astute leaders will digest and process the challenge that is being presented. They will critically evaluate and restate what they have heard, asking questions to dig deeper and truly understand the root causes of an issue. They will work to reframe the challenge by asking the team, “What are some other ways we can look at this situation?”

The best leaders do not simply inform the team on how to approach a situation, but rather try to draw the solution out of team members. Even if they know or believe they have the best approach, they will probe and challenge the team to come up with the solution. Why? This creates ownership among team members, develops their problem solving ability and gives them the confidence to find solutions on their own in the future. Autocratic or directive leadership does not provide these opportunities.

3.  Challenge the conventional approach

Every once in a while, we experience a person in one of our partnering sessions who is the “yeah but” person. This person says it can’t be done, they’ve never done it like that before, or it won’t work because of so and so. We all have had these “negative nellies” on our team before and know how limiting they can be. An experienced leader will challenge these naysayers by asking questions to determine why something hasn’t worked in the past and what needs to be investigated.

A good leader will also ask what assumptions are being made and how the team can work together to overcome them. Just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Progress is only derived from challenging the norm and seeking out new approaches or solutions. True leaders in partnering sessions challenge their teams to do this and to do it often.

4.  Hold team members accountable

Accountability drives the success or failure of a team. When we make commitments to one another and follow through, it creates both trust and results — two key components for a successful project.

In partnering sessions with top leaders, they do not sit idly and let team members make vague commitments. Leaders push for dates and deliverables, challenging the team to hold each other accountable. They do not command their team members, but rather encourage ownership of an issue with proper follow through and a thorough report of results.

The feedback loop here is key. We don’t want to hear the phrase, “This is the first time I am hearing this,” in our partnering workshops. Leaders should be checking in regularly with their team members and should be informed on key milestones, decisions and challenges.

5.  Sniff out BS

Challenging conversations are not easy. Heck, that’s why we call them challenging. Many people tend to avoid or dance around a difficult discussion. One of my favorite life-hacking authors, Tim Ferris, says, “Success in life is determined by the number of challenging conversations that one is able to engage in.” The more conversations we have the quicker we can come to resolutions on key issues.

A good leader does not let these challenging conversations get brushed aside in partnering sessions. They dig deeper, reframe, restate and look for solutions. If you feel your team or any team member is avoiding an issue during a meeting, ask them about it privately and pry a little if necessary. Don’t ignore an issue in order to avoid confrontation. If you have any concerns, address them right away.

6.  Remove roadblocks and excuses

Strong leaders do not micromanage every detail of the project. They are aware of what is happening, however do not delve into the minute decisions or second guess their team. They diligently work to remove roadblocks and challenge any excuses the team might develop.

For example, if a team member says, “The security gate will only let us work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” the team leader might say, “How do we get permission to work longer hours or whom do we need to speak with to get longer access?” Leaders find creative ways to increase the productivity and cohesion of the team.

By following the above strategies during future partnering sessions and team meetings, senior leadership will help set the stage for a project’s success. They will also be leading by example, a trait which all team members can emulate because ultimately, every person has the potential to become a leader someday. From the CEO of the general contractor to the drywall tradesman, we each play a role in the success or failure of a project. Create a culture of leadership on your next construction project and success is sure to follow.

Neal Flesner is an IPI Certified Master Facilitator with Ventura Consulting Group.  Neal has over 10 years of facilitation experience on hundreds of major construction projects around the world.  Click here for a full biography.

Photo Credit: Mark Reeves

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