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Collaboration Part 6: Denial is Not a River in Egypt

As I logged into blogger to do this post, I realized that I'm a couple of posts behind on the collaboration effort I'm engaged in on a large project. I wrote a 2-parter on the opening session (here and here) and a follow up called "We Were Not One and Done" on the 2nd effort. I seem to have not described the 3rd effort or at least not published it and then I missed the 4th (daughter's graduation) and 5th (CSI Convention) sessions. Tuesday was our 6th session and it offered some interesting insight into the work of our team.

 

The biggest take away from session 4 was the creation of an 11 question survey that the team will fill out quarterly. It contains questions about how the team is doing, who's working well, who is communicating well, the timeliness of team members, that sort of thing. Responses are given on a 7 point scale with 1 being "Not At All," 4 being "Average" and 7 being "To a Great Extent."

 

There are a couple of good things about the survey and a couple of not so good things about it. The survey is taken anonymously. The responder receives an email with link to a "Survey Monkey" on-line survey. Upon taking the survey, you identify yourself only by the organization you are associated with. That's the bad thing: I work for the associate architect but I'm lumped in with the architect of record. The client, with at least 5 different heads, has a single category but the CM and each design-assist contractor is listed separately. Guess who created the survey?

 

The survey was first taken prior to the 5th collaboration session. To my mind, the results were inconclusive as nearly every organization's aggregate score was somewhere around 5 on the 7 point scale, meaning all team members are performing "above average." To further the inconclusiveness of the data, only 13 of 25 people responded: 8 from the building team and only 3 from the A/E team and 2 from the Owner's team. Hardly a fair representation of team members.


The second round of the survey was probably less conclusive than the first round. Of 25 people who were invited to take the survey, only 10 did so - that's 40%. One of the design-assist contractors had no one respond, the architects had just one response (me) and the owner had 1 response of 5 invitees. We brainstormed ways to increase accountability and participation and we'll see how that goes on the next go around of the survey.

 

With the low participation, I can't really see much in the data itself. The high average score belongs to the concrete design-assist contractor at 5.6 and the low score again belongs to the Owner at 4.88. As with the first survey, most scores on individual questions fall in the range of 4 and 5 points on the 7 point scale.

 

Of concern and discussion in our meeting is the response to the question "Overall, how would you rate this organization's timeliness on matters relevant to the project?" The average score for the team on this item was 4.44 with the Owner receiving 3.55 on the low end and no team member scoring higher than 4.75 except the concrete design-assist contractor who scored 5.22. Throw out that score and the average drops to 4.34. Still "average" but not where the team wants to be. Some discussion was held regarding an owner-mandated software program and attempts were made to seek solutions. Several of us pointed to enhanced communication recently that has improved the inner workings of the team, but that occurred after most had filled out the survey.

 

The survey also has a "free response" category where participants can write in what is "going well," "not going well" and "can improve." The facilitator pointed to one response under "not going well" for further discussion. The comment was "For a project that has "design-assist" contractors, we are seeing a tremendous number of RFI's. In previous collaboration meetings, we agreed to pick up the telephone - that NEVER happens." This comment was authored by me and was intended to elicit a response from the team, hold everyone accountable and hopefully spur discussion. I succeeded.

 

When asked, I did own the comment but an interesting thing happened: the entire construction team denied that this situation actually exists. They to-the-man said they frequently call each other, call the engineers and call the CM. I pointed out that no one calls me and I get to process the RFI's. They all then denied that this is a problem because they only want to involve the architect when they deem the architect needs to be involved. I told them that is unacceptable: nearly every situation has architectural ramifications and the architect needs to be involved as I am the only one who has been involved in every meeting on the project from the beginning.

 

The ironic part of all of this denial came later in the meeting. The facilitator is interested in providing some sort of professional development in each meeting. In this meeting, he spoke on "change management." Not managing change orders on the job site, but in planning for and handling organizational changes that come about in everyone's lives. He drew an analogy between reactions to change and the 5 stages of grief first captured in the seminal work On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969. If you're familiar with this work, you'll know that the first stage of grief, and to the facilitator, the first reaction to change is denial.

 

I filled out the survey a few days before what I would characterize as a "Come to Jesus" phone call between the CM's senior project manager, the architect of record's senior PA and myself. On that call, the CM expressed some concerns that he was hearing from his team and I expressed my frustrations with his team, their response to questions and how they are conducting their business. It was ultimately a productive call that has reaped benefits in the weeks since then.

 

I told the facilitator after the meeting that I wrote the comment after I gave a presentation at CSI Convention in September on this collaboration process. I came out of that presentation realizing that I could either continue to complain about the team and the process or do something about it. That comment, and another even MORE critical comment, came out of the desire to do something to make the team better. Recognizing that a majority of this team is in denial gives me a positive feeling. Hopefully, across the coming weeks, the team can move from denial to anger, to guilt, to sadness and finally acceptance that we have a problem and we need to fix it.

 

 

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