The contractor-designer relationship doesn't have to be an adversarial one.
The ability of contractors to engage in the construction design process — courtesy of design technology like building information modeling (BIM) and the rising popularity of collaboration-based delivery methods like design-build — has increased in recent years. This has placed construction companies into what some might have considered in the past to be the exclusive territory of architects, engineers and other design professionals.
Given the potential for overlap in duties and the overall need for tight teamwork on increasingly complex projects, establishing a productive relationship is essential.
Early team integration
Collaboration between the contractor, owner, architect and key trade partners as early as possible in the design process is a strong first step toward creating a high-performing project team, said Mike Stapf, vice president of design integration at McCarthy Building Companies.
"This early collaboration sets the project up for success from the design phase, into construction, through turnover, and it garners buy-in from all project stakeholders from the start."
Collaborative delivery methods
"Integrated project delivery and design-build contracts are set up to support and reward successful team integration," said Stapf. He explained that these methods help break down the potentially isolating roles project participants have had in the past and expose team members to aspects of the construction process they might not have seen before.
"Traditional adversarial relationships among owners, designers and contractors begin to disappear because everyone understands and is working toward the same end goals."
Making the monitoring of both the schedule and costs a team effort — and allowing for maximum input from both construction and design teams — provides an opportunity for everyone to work together and resolve design, constructability and budget issues as early as possible, said Stapf.
As every management consultant ever has said at one time or another, moving team members into one working location makes project stakeholders feel more like a team.
Clear and regular communication
Doug Mangers, vice president of healthcare operations at McCarthy, said a system of open communication and feedback helps builds trust and allows project management to address small problems before they become big ones. "Addressing issues quickly and working to proactively resolve them helps all team members feel like they are being heard."
A focus on outcomes
Noted Mangers, “The best way to establish and support strong team relationships and to maximize performance is for team members to feel a stronger sense of commitment and loyalty to the project than the individual project sphere they’re leading.”
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.