You already know that collaboration and teamwork on building and construction projects are key drivers of good outcomes.

In fact, without them, we can look forward to disagreements, arguments, disputes, and lost time and money for everyone. The benefits of collaboration and teamwork make them invaluable when looking to complete an excellent project.

But what can you do to make collaboration a reality rather than a bumper sticker?

The development of BIM technology is driving extraordinary opportunities for even more effective teamwork and collaboration. These attributes of project teams have the capacity to drive optimal time, cost and functionality outcomes. They are also key to the flip side of good project outcomes – the avoidance of disputes.

In 2009, the Cooperative Research Centre for Construction Innovation published the Guide To Leading Practice for Dispute Avoidance And Resolution. The guide was the result of an exhaustive study of what contributed to project disputes, both here and overseas. Drawing on that experience, the task force that produced the guide suggested things that clients and then members of project teams must do to minimise disputes.

As one might expect, the things that prevent disputes also contribute to good project outcomes. The challenge though is to do some things differently from the way we do them now.

To avoid and resolve disputes, a cultural change is required within the construction industry.

Research undertaken for this project showed that there are six factors critical to minimisation and avoidance of disputes:

  • Recognition that each construction project involves the creation of a new group of people with diverse interests. There is thus the need to create a culture within the group which is project oriented but which recognises the financial and social requirements of each participant, and facilitates the building of trust between them.
  • In selecting project participants, significant weight should be given to the attitude of a participant, as well as its capacity and pricing.
  • The early involvement of head contractors, specialist subcontractors and designers with the client and other project sponsors.
  • Sensible risk allocation.
  • Appropriate delegation of authority, including financial authority, to problem solve rapidly.
  • Selecting a project delivery mechanism and contractual framework that reflects the matters above.

Without the cultural change inherent in adopting the concepts above, the Australian economy will continue to suffer wastage from disputes in the construction industry estimated at approximately $7 billion per annum.

BIM makes possible collaboration and teamwork as the norm, not an unusual occurrence. Good teamwork and collaboration are needed, in turn, to get the best from BIM. BIM simply can’t deliver 100 per cent of its potential if the team dynamic is not on song. Likewise, there is not best use of BIM without the involvement of all project team members able to contribute to design and resolution of design development.

This seems to be a big challenge. Generally speaking, we are used to engaging a head contractor and trade contractors and suppliers only when we have enough design to allow for tenders to be called for pricing.

This should change because the absence of constructors and suppliers denies designers – and the project sponsors – the experience and skill of buildability, installation and commissioning that could create a superior design and work methods that could deliver better time, cost and functionality. We leave value behind every time we treat the orthodox separation of designers and constructors as inflexible.

The current approach to tendering also results in the original design perhaps becoming wasted effort. The Institution of Engineers Australia, in their landmark study Getting it Right the First Time, found that parts of design documentation contribute 10 to 15 per cent of unnecessary cost. Having contractors and trade contractors involved in the design of a project would assist in reducing this wasted effort by nominating the essential design information they would “pull” rather than having designs “pushed” onto them.

The trade contractors involved in manufacture typically represent between 20 and 40 per cent of capital cost, and have the capacity to contribute significantly to reduce whole-of-life cost. The greater the level of such project team integration established at the outset of a project, the greater the team’s ability to work together on the design, cost plan and allocation of risk before construction begins. Everyone involved in the project team has a collective interest in ensuring its success.

There are straightforward approaches that can be used to enhance collaboration amongst project team members, and identify issues to be addressed to increase effective team integration. They are described in the ACIF and APCC publications The Case for project Team Integration and the Project Team Integration Handbook, available for free here.

The benefits are wide ranging and deliver bottom line gains to everyone involved in projects where collaboration and teamwork are an integral part of the culture.