“Clear, common goals that the whole project team buys into are the centerpiece. They ensure we are all in alignment with common expectations. These need to be set early.”   

— Jim Bostic, St. Joseph Health Systems / Petra ICS

By Jim Eisenhart, VCG President

We have a project team ranking system at Ventura Consulting Group that is divided into three areas—Business as Usual, Good Teams and World Class Teams.  In respect to project goal setting, here are the differences between these three distinct team levels:

Business as Usual: Have to keep your eye on everyone. Hidden agendas assumed. Plans and specs are there to be enforced.

Good Teams: Good intentions that at best meet schedule, budget, and quality specifications or requirements. Absence of personal committed action.

World Class Teams: Measurable team goals that acknowledge but are not constrained by contract or specifications. Collaborative processes backed up by specific personal commitments to action.

When we asked 127 construction managers, architects, engineers, project owners and contractors who had been part of a world class team about the value of having explicit, measurable and common team project goals and their relationship to a construction project team’s ability to achieve World Class status, 90% said it’s an absolute prerequisite.

It’s clear that you cannot have a world class project team without common team project goals. Nevertheless, do not fall victim to the assumption that just meeting job specifications and contract requirements constitutes common goals. Steve Iselin of the U.S. Navy explains: “A team can have what appear to many as common goals, but if these were not developed by the team as a team with the opportunity to hear all sides out, then they are nowhere near as valuable as any one individual’s assumptions or the contract requirements.”

The feedback we get from partnering workshops is that the real value comes from the process of establishing common goals as a team and reviewing them periodically over the course of the project. It’s the interaction and communication that takes place between individuals during these processes that makes the difference. Paul Ligocki, retired Operations Manager of Hensel Phelps, explains: “If you don’t flip possible project goals back and forth between the owners, designers, and contractors several times, the team never really explores the possibilities.”

Goal setting is also the very best way to build genuine trust among construction project stakeholders. Why? While talking about trust is useful, it is often too abstract, particularly for folks in construction, who tend to be goal- or task-oriented. Lectures, simulations, psychological tools, or games that attempt to establish trust are of marginal value. As my colleague Neal Flesner from Missouri says, “Show me.”

When project stakeholders start talking about project goals not constrained by contractual requirements, they begin to find out what is really important to one another and discover they have a lot in common. They also begin to realize that they cannot achieve these stretch goals without one another’s support, contribution, and genuine commitment. Furthermore, the common goals generate a personal “at stakeness” in the project’s success—a commitment not just grounded in meeting contractual requirements or specifications. Ultimately, through common goal setting, the team realizes the intangible and intrinsic benefits, as well as the satisfaction that comes from working as part of a world class team and owning the game.

This article is an excerpt from Jim Eisenhart’s book, “Raising the Bar on Construction Project Teamwork – Catapult your Results from Good to World Class,” and is copyrighted (2011©). All rights reserved. The author grants permission to reproduce and distribute as long as credit to the source document and Jim Eisenhart is maintained.

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