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How to avoid arguments with your construction team

Plans site proposals hard hats PPE
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Without trust between individuals and team members you are left with nothing but arguments, blame and ultimately disputes, says Nick Schumann

Nick Schumann

Change in the construction industry continues at quite a pace and is leading to significant alterations in the way we all do things, but it is also causing problems, many of which have plagued our industry for years.

Market conditions are the main driver for change; they always have been and always will be, as clients, consultants, manufacturers, contractors and subcontractors adapt their methods, processes and attitudes to suit. I remain an optimist and still like to believe that the best way to achieve great project outcomes is to work as an interdependent team who all succeed (or fail) together.

Valiant attempts have been made over the years to find the best practical means of achieving this, although not always for the right reasons, or with the intended results. I think this is mainly because underpinning everything we do is risk mitigation or, in other words, everyone doing everything possible to protect themselves from blame, which in reality means blaming someone else.

Collective responsibility seems a distant dream, and the nearest we seem to be able to get to achieving that dream is two-stage Design and Build and/or appointing a single consultant to deliver all design disciplines and specialists under a single appointment, something we are all very familiar with these days and which can be made to work.

BIM Level 3 will only succeed if there are significant changes to attitude

Is this, however, a real solution? Does it really provide an interdependent structure with collective responsibility, or does it just sweep problems under the carpet, so they are still prevalent but unseen by the client? I don’t have a magic answer, but my point is: do we or our institutional representatives do enough to debate and consider options for the collective good? After all, we all want our business to succeed and that can only happen through successful project delivery and happy clients.

This brings me back to that old topic of training and the fact that every project requires the bringing together of a large number of skills, using people who have all been trained and schooled independently and, as such, only really see things from one point of view: theirs. Surely, one day, we will realise that this needs to change, especially with the advent of BIM Level 3, which demands collective responsibility and sharing everything (warts and all) to create an interdependent team. Good luck with that as, in my view, it will only succeed if there are significant changes to attitudes.

Attitude is everything, as without positive thinking and a proactive approach the key elements of trust and confidence will never flourish. Without trust and confidence between individuals and team members you are left with nothing but problems, arguments, blame and ultimately disputes.

Let me provide an example of what I think is a very bad attitude, which I have come across recently in three or four projects, that demonstrates the challenge facing us.

The project is being procured on a two-stage Design and Build process with the designer being novated at the end of RIBA Stage 3. As we know, or I hope we know by now, the novated designer will not always be able to provide full manufacture and installation details for every element of the works because some will require this to be done by a specialist subcontractor who will take responsibility for completing the detailed design and provide working/shop drawings, as well as warranties/ guarantees – rather like CDP (contractor’s design portion) elements in a traditionally procured project.

These elements are (or should be) listed in the employer’s requirements so that the Stage 1 tenderers are aware of the need for some specialists. However, what seems to happen is that the tenderer says nothing until he is appointed, and during Stage 2 suddenly reveals that he does not agree with the list and wants to reduce these elements to save money. That seems to me to be a bad behaviour and often puts the client and designer in a very difficult situation, but worse, creates an immediate culture of distrust for the rest of the project.

Some may think it is clever, but I think it demonstrates a very bad attitude.

Nick Schumann is director at Schumann Consult, specialising in specification and design management

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