“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

—Nido Qubein, Author, Consultant

By Jim Eisenhart

The vast majority of general contractors, owners, designers and construction managers that I have surveyed attribute extraordinary project success and great teamwork to one or more of the following circumstances:

  • We had good people and all got along.  The plans and specs were clear and complete.
  • Site conditions/weather were favorable.
  • We had enough money (Funding and timely payment were not a problem).
  • Third parties, regulatory agencies, etc. were supportive and responsive.
  • We didn’t have any major disputes.
  • Everyone did what they were supposed to do.
  • It was not a low/hard-bid job.
  • We utilized IPD, BIM, Lean, Design-Build, CM-at-risk, etc.
  • We did not have a major crisis or emergency.

Consider that maybe, just maybe, World Class teamwork doesn’t require any of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I would not want to suggest that these processes or attributes are not desirable. But consider the possibility that you can have a World Class project team without one or more of the above circumstances. Preposterous? Not at all! In fact, it’s a fallacy to assume that you need favorable, let alone ideal, circumstances to achieve World Class teamwork.

Many projects employing partnering best practices have succeeded and met the standards of a World Class team despite, rather than because of, their circumstances. I have various examples of these in my book — Raising the Bar on Construction Project Teamwork.

What World Class Teamwork Really Requires

If you take away all of the conditions (excuses), what does World Class teamwork really require? In my experience, it comes down to a commitment by senior management to working on the basis of shared values of trust, common purpose and teamwork with a mutually agreed-upon protocol or process that leaves their team in committed action toward common goals.

One of our client’s notes, “I take our commitments very seriously and try to project a positive attitude toward the owner and design team that we are committed to World Class teamwork.” Psychologists call the power of expectations the Pygmalion Effect; it is more commonly known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.

That is why it is imperative to differentiate between achieving or striving for project team excellence and conventional measures of project success. By declaring yourselves successful as a World Class team, you can assert your effectiveness without being dependent upon the ultimate success of the project.  As a bridge project example in my book demonstrates, you can be late and over budget and still be a World Class team.  It’s a bit of a word game, but a team that believes itself to be World Class in the face of disadvantageous circumstances or at least is continuing to strive toward World Class teamwork has a big leg up on project teams who resign themselves to being victims of their circumstances.

John Wooden, the former-UCLA basketball coach who was named as the “Best Coach of All Time,” never tried to motivate his players or exhort them to win a game by telling them that it’s important to be number one or that they had to be the NCAA Champions.  Rather, he was challenging them consistently, to be the best they could be as individuals and as a team.

Here is how one of our large healthcare facility clients explains it:

“The value of the World Class team process and approach springs from three sources:

  1. The alignment of the personal and professional goals of the individual participants and the business interests of their respective firms with that of the other stakeholders. This, in turn facilitates the establishment of the team based on the common goals and purpose for the project.
  2. The establishment of partnering language that enhances communication and negotiation of individual commitments among the stakeholders.
  3. Development of and commitment to specific and measurable project goals, along with detailed processes necessary to accomplish and review the team’s performance of them.”

World Class teamwork is like any other collaborative human behavior. If you and your teammates have mutually agreed upon clear standards of excellence — goals and behaviors — which you all commit to striving to achieve, and you continually measure your performance by that standard, you stand a very good chance of eventually getting there…or at least getting close. World Class teamwork is a mindset as well as a set of behavioral practices backed up by committed action.

This article is based on 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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