Trust + Purpose + True Collaboration = Increased Value

How can we deliver more value to our clients? How can we help to make their vision and dreams become real? These are questions that we all ask ourselves, and personally, these are questions that I ask myself and our team everyday. There must be a different approach, a way to see the forest through the trees – a way to achieve what others haven’t. If this approach exists, how do we operationalize it? How do we make it work to our benefit, and in effect, benefiting our client or the community that we are serving?

These questions are some I am going to attempt to answer, based on a few principles and theories I picked up reading GEN Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams, Simon Sinek’s books Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, and a constant stream of podcasts that I have been listening to that talk about client experience and adding value. I’m hoping that we will be able to put together a framework that will enable us to figure out a better way to work together towards a common purpose and will allow us all to succeed.

Before going any further, I want to point out that there are several people and groups working on this idea of a more collaborative world, specific to the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. This piece came together after finishing GEN McChrystal’s book, which served as the catalyst for me to weigh in on the topic of collaboration. The work that the Construction Institute is doing with Fathom on this topic, is one of the many tools I believe we need to truly get past the status quo. Now back to our main post…

As we look at these difficult questions, one thing sticks out to me. The only way that we can develop theories and answers to these questions is to continuously educate ourselves. How do we as professionals continue our education within the constraints of our busy schedules? The answer is simple, by prioritizing our continued education.

If we make this a priority, it will end up on our calendars, it will be something that becomes a glass ball that can’t be dropped, it will become second nature to us. This can be as simple as sitting through webinars, taking a graduate certificate class, getting a graduate degree, and/or it can be as simple as reading professional books, magazines, and journals. Additionally listening to podcasts on a wide ranging group of topics will give you a better perspective on your field or industry. These suggestions on learning are all things that will cause you to think and challenge your assumptions. By prioritizing the time necessary to continually educate ourselves, we will grow as individuals, which will then impact our teams, making our teams better, and in essence, giving us the ability to deliver a better product or service and add more value to our clients, everyday.

As I continue to think about these questions and try to find answers, I continue to read and make continuous learning a priority. With that said, I thought I would talk about a few books and how these books have impacted my thought process,giving me a new approach or probably more accurately, reinforcing a way of thinking. These books are General McChrystal’s, Team of Teams, New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and Leaders’ Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t. Let’s begin by focusing on GEN McChrystal’s work and then I will talk about how Simon Sinek’s work ties them together.

The principles in Team of Teams are laid out in a very interesting way that speak to a wide range of audiences, whether you are a military leader, a business leader in a fortune 500 company or small firm, a graduate student, an entry level employee, or a soon-to-be graduate looking to enter the workforce. The story of the transformation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in their attempts to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and other examples in the book, show us a way to approach the complex issues and highlight strategies that have worked in the real world. The key here is understanding the difference between what is complex and what is complicated. GEN McChrystal spends a good amount of time explaining this difference, which I will briefly summarize before providing an example relevant to the AEC and Commercial Real Estate (CRE) industries.

Complicated Problems/Issues/Systems: “have many parts, but those parts are joined, one to the next, in relatively simple ways: one cog turns, causing the next one to turn as well, and so on.” A simple example of this would be a car engine. It is confusing but it can be simplified into a series of, “neat and tidy deterministic relationships.” This allows us the ability to predict outcomes when something happens to a part of piece of a complicated system (Team of Teams, “From Complicated to Complex,” pg. 57).

Complexity: “occurs when the number of interactions between components increases dramatically.” This makes predicting outcomes nearly impossible (Team of Teams, “From Complicated to Complex,” pg. 57).

So as members of the AEC and CRE industries, what things come to mind as complicated and what comes to mind as complex? Here are a few examples that jumped to the front of my mind:

We have checklists and processes to deal with the complicated problem sets. Submit X on this day and Y on the next… However, how do we deal with the complex ones? To deal with these problem sets, we need to develop a team of teams, rather than being a grouping of individual teams.

(Team of Teams, “Symmetries,” Pg. 245)

To build this team of teams trust must be built amongst all parties. This trust must go beyond a superficial trust and truly be a trust that will hold up when things don’t go as planned. In addition to this trust, there must be a common purpose that everyone understands ands strives to achieve. The common purpose must be the foundation, coupled with trust, that builds the team. With trust and common purpose established we gain a shared consciousness and can allow empowered execution. These two new components, shared consciousness and empowered execution, are fundamental in allowing an organization and/or a team of teams to be adaptable. In essence, the team is united, working towards a common purpose, and given the ability to act, which allows them to aggressively attack the complex. The complex consisting of two main parts, speed and interdependence. By attacking the complex with a team of teams, unified around a common purpose and given the ability to adapt, we can provide more value to our clients and to our communities.

How do we actually do this? To me, it begins with developing relationships, real relationships, with a diverse group of people. This is not simply having a ton of connections that you can reach out to for an answer, but rather a group of people that you know you can depend on at any time of day, no matter what. This is the type of trust that can translate into a shared consciousness.

Building real relationships takes time. GEN McChrystal writes about sending liaisons from his staff to other agencies to build this trust. He additionally forced inter-team swaps, a SEAL would be placed on a U.S. Army Special Forces Team and vice versa. This built a camaraderie amongst these elite warriors, where there had only been competition. By having them work together in this way, trust was built that later impacted the rest of the team, allowing GEN McChrystal’s team of teams (JSOC) to attack and defeat AQI.

This is most likely not a feasible approach that we can take, however, we can use this as a framework to highlight the value of getting together with the teams that you work with outside of a project meeting. Gain an understanding of who they are and why they do what they do. These simple things will allow you and your team to feel a greater sense of camaraderie with the other teams, allowing us to build the foundations needed to attack the complex together.

Simon Sinek’s works definitely add to this conversation as well. His idea of starting with why, is what can help us to define our common purpose. Why are we forming this team of teams? What is our common purpose that will help drive us to success? Additionally, in Leaders Eat Last Sinek talks about a circle of safety. He draws a great, yet simple, drawing to describe this. In the diagram he draws the circle of safety with danger all around it. Leaders, through their actions and the environment they set, protect their folks from the danger. I would argue that GEN McChrystal would take that diagram and change danger to complexity and state that the circle of safety is actually a team of teams. By adhering to the principles in Sinek’s books, we reinforce the major points also depicted in GEN McChrystal’s.

This is not something that is going to be quick and simple. Our industry is not based on collaboration of this kind. If we are going to succeed and deliver the best results to our clients and communities, we must break away from the adversarial approach that is our nature and embrace this new collaborative team of teams approach. This is how we provide our clients more value. Rather than being a grouping of non-aligned design professionals, financial advisors, construction professionals, etc., we come to the project as a team of teams, forged on mutual trust, united in a common purpose, and empowered to be be an adaptable and agile group, giving us the ability to handle complicated and complex issues for our clients.



By Chris Duprey, MS 
Director of Operations &
Business Development

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