Those who have read almost any prior post here on construction management topics must be aware by now that I believe successful projects are built with a good communication strategy in play. To achieve good communication, you need to meet regularly. OAC (owner or owner’s rep, architect, contractor) meetings, monthly SMT (senior management team) meetings, and weekly trade contractor (“weekly work planning,” in Last Planner vernacular) meetings are all part of the strategy. In these meetings, we work to identify constraints before they threaten forward progress and/or identify Potential Improvement Points (PIPs)—in other words, how we could do our projects better, faster.
If you’re going to have all these meetings, they need to be managed well. Some bullet points for what I consider to be an effective meeting is that they start on time and end on time. They are about 60 minutes long. And cell phones are handled. Cell phones are undoubtedly the worst things for communication because people multitask and get dragged out of the room (literally or figuratively) while answering a text. In PrayWorks meetings, we sit down and ask, “What are we going to do about cell phones?” I’ve gone so far as to pass the hat. Everybody puts his or her cell phones in it and we put the hat in a corner. Regardless how you do it, cell phones need to be managed.
Another one of my individual qualifications is I work for and with the Adizes organization, an international management-consulting firm headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. As part of their Integrator’s Training program, they teach, among other things, how to run meetings. They have a vernacular that they refer to as hard rules and soft rules. You’re probably familiar with meetings that are run with soft rules. When you have a group in a meeting and somehow they have achieved a high level of mutual trust and respect in the room, you can allow a free flowing discussion to go on. The meeting can work well.
But soft rules don’t always work. We’ve all been to those meetings with folks that never stop talking or, the opposite, meetings during which people are reticent to share their opinions. If you find yourself in this environment, hard rules might be just the ticket. When hard rules are in play, each person says what’s on his or her mind, and then passes to the right by saying the person to their right’s first name. So what’s going on here? First of all, everyone gets a chance to dialogue. Second, everyone knows when the speaker is finished because he or she says so, AND third, you encourage the use of everyone’s favorite word…their first name!
Once you create the environment in which ideas are heard, then decisions are more likely to be respected. The decision maker might say, “I’ve heard your idea. I don’t agree with it, at least not at the moment, but I’ll consider it.” That’s a whole lot better than never even getting the idea out.
To summarize, you’ve got to have a good communication strategy. You’ve got to manage the environment in which you are having this communication effectively—run good meetings. Conflicts will arise in construction projects, and well-structured and facilitated meetings will tend to encourage constructive conflict.
There’s much more to creating an environment that allows conflict to emerge and be characterized as constructive rather than destructive. This is the tip of the iceberg. It’s worth having a trained facilitator on your team. Let me know if I can help you find this training. firstname.lastname@example.org