On Collaboration

“Collaboration” means different things to different people.

To me, it doesn’t mean attending meetings with lots of people and talking about lots of things.

I’m a visual person (even though I’m a spec writer, I’m an architect, remember?) so when I think about collaborating, I have an image in my mind.  I visualize 2 pieces of some kind of construction membrane butting together perfectly, or overlapping firmly, or trying to butt together but gapping at the seam… It depends on how my attempted collaboration is going…

In words, I think about construction project team collaboration kind of like this:

If everyone on a project team gives 101%, if everyone does his own job as thoroughly and as best as he can (accounting for the 100%), PLUS goes an extra 1% (tries to anticipate and be proactive about locations where gaps between the work of team members might occur, and tries to overlap a tiny bit) we’ll get to 100% (our best work as a team) on the project.

Nobody’s perfect – even when we shoot for 100% perfect, we fall short somewhere.  That’s why teams work well – on a good team, someone else will notice something that we forgot or didn’t even know about – WHEN  everyone’s pulling his own weight, and aiming for 101%.  If everyone on the team shoots for 99%, we’re totally screwed.

In a building, the places which are the most vulnerable to failures (such as moisture intrusion or structural cracking) are at the transitions between different materials.  We in the construction industry know this really, really well.  Likewise, on a project team, the areas of work most vulnerable to being overlooked, uncoordinated, or messed up, are the areas where the work of different team members is supposed to overlap.  If everyone tries only to get his own work covered, but doesn’t try to make sure that the transition from his work to his teammate’s work is meshing properly, we get gaps, rips, splits, failures in our product (the construction documents for a project, or a smooth construction process for a project). 

The difference between an uncoordinated set of construction documents and a coordinated set of construction documents may be that one short question or comment that you think you don’t have time to mention.  Ask it, mention it.  That little extra comment to another team member may end up being like a little extra bit that a roof membrane was supposed to overlap the adjacent roof membrane… but didn’t, causing an expensive roof failure.  (This is just a metaphor…  No actual roofs were harmed in the creation of this blog post.)

This post was inspired by an interesting article by Susan Cain published in the New York Times.     The Rise of the New Groupthink http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html

 “… it’s one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls… “ – Susan Cain

One thought on “On Collaboration

  1. Pingback: The Meaning of Teamwork « Comments From a Spec Writer

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