The Meaning of Teamwork

Ah, the meaning of teamwork is being discussed again.  In a recent online column, Michael S. Weil wrote that I don’t understand the meaning of teamwork.  (He was mixed up about my name, which is O’Sullivan, not Sullivan, but he quoted from my blog post on Integrated Project Delivery in his piece.)  This post is my response to him.

Sometimes, the most valuable player on the team is the one who demands that each member pull his or her own weight.

Many people understand my above statement pretty well from experiences in their personal lives, especially people who are part of a household with children and 2 parents who work outside the home.  It might take time for such demands to be appreciated and to be seen for what they are.  It is not always easy to be the “bad guy.”  I know both men and women who sometimes have to remind their partners at home that it’s their turn to do something for the kids or something in the kitchen.  Speaking up and reminding one’s partner is better for the relationship than not speaking up (and just doing it oneself and resenting it).  We need to team up on the things we can’t do alone.

Years ago, when I was the architectural project manager on a school addition/remodel project, I had assistance from various coworkers throughout the project.  For the more technical items, such as the design and detailing of the roof assembly and parapets, an architect who was much more experienced than I assisted me.  Sometime early in construction, a question from the contractor came up about parapet height and the tapered insulation on the roof.  I discussed the issue with my boss, and I offered to figure it out.  He said no, have the architect who originally detailed it figure it out and fix it

I never discussed his reasons with him, but I see a few good reasons for his response:  First, it’s good to have people clean up their own messes.  (This was not a mess, just a minor miscalculation, but the idea is the same – require people to finish what they start.)  Second, it’s important to maintain continuity of thought throughout a problem-solving process – only this other architect knew what factors she had taken into account from the beginning – giving the problem to someone else to solve would have thrown away that knowledge.  Third, it’s good to pick the most appropriate person for the task based on skills.  Since the other architect was more experienced than I, she was the more appropriate person on our office team to draw those details.

Teamwork on a Construction Project Team

Teamwork!  It often means working by oneself, and bringing the products of that work back to the team.  Work must be broken down into discrete tasks, and the tasks have to be given to the people on the team who are best-suited to those tasks.  Many of these discrete tasks (such as detailing a roof parapet) are best accomplished in solitude.  Some (such as compiling a GC’s bid on a bid date) need to be accomplished while working constantly with others.  In either case, people must give their all – team members cannot expect others to pick up their slack. 

My January 2012 blog post “On Collaboration” discussed my vision of teamwork: 

“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.”

The Teeter-Totter

There’s a teeter-totter kind of mechanism in every relationship – if things are to keep moving, the less one party does, the more another has to do.  The more one party does, the less another has to do.  (You may have grown up calling it a seesaw.  I grew up calling it a teeter-totter.  It’s a board on a fulcrum; kids often try to bounce each other off it.  This activity may end in tears.)

A question for general contractors who have done Construction Manager as Constructor projects – have you ever received unfinished drawings at GMP pricing time and been asked for a ton of input at that point from the architect?  Did it feel like a bunch of someone else’s work was dumped on you?  

A tough question for architects – have you ever gotten stumped, busy, or lazy on a Construction Manager as Constructor project, and decided to ask the CM for technical design advice, on a question like the appropriate height of a roof curb or flashing, or the appropriate thickness of material for a metal door, or the proper type of paint for the metal bollards, instead of researching it yourself?  Do you realize that you were asking the CM to do some of your work for you?  (I have done that sort of thing myself, on one project.  I was young; I didn’t know what I was doing.  It was a mistake.)

The Right Party for the Job

Some CMs have the knowledge and the contacts to do a good analysis of what would be an appropriate design solution in a particular situation.  But my personal experience with CMs leads me to believe that many only analyze by cost, and many seem to just forward their questions on to their favorite subs.  If the question just goes to one subcontractor, there’s no analysis, just an answer driven by convenience and economics, not by a comprehensive look at what product or detail would be best for the owner, short term performance-wise, or long term performance-wise, or aesthetically.

On a project team, such as the kind we have under a CMc agreement, the contractor is the best person to answer questions about cost and schedule, and the availability of installers for systems and assemblies, but the contractor is not the best person to answer questions about specific products and technical construction details.

A good technically-minded architect (who understands building science, durability, product interfaces, assembly transitions, and building codes), someone who does not have anything to gain financially by recommending a particular product or solution, is the most appropriate person to explore solutions involving specific products and technical construction details.  Now, that architect (a firm’s technical director, or the firm’s construction specifier, in many cases) will be getting some of his or her information from people who do have products to sell.  But that architect ought to be doing independent research, and ought to be talking to more than one technical sales rep about more than one product for more than one possible solution.  The contractor, even a CM getting a preconstruction fee, might not do anything more than talk to one person about the question.  The CM is probably not the right party to do this research.


As I commented on Antony McPhee’s blog post, I do not doubt that IPD will make the construction industry more efficient.  But, I think it will not make aesthetic design better overall, and I think that worse aesthetic design, in general, will be bad for the built environment.  There’s also the ethical side of more-contractor-influence for owners to consider.  Under design-bid-build and CMc, when different solutions involve products and systems and assemblies that someone sells, the design professional doesn’t get a “cut” or percentage of that sale for specifying it on the project, but the contractor’s profit figure is always based on the cost of the project.  In a team relationship such as CMc, the design professional is supposed to be the party evaluating different solutions for their aesthetic value and their performance value over the life-cycle of a building, and the contractor is supposed to be the party evaluating these different solutions for their scheduling and cost issues and installer issues.  The contractor, because of the profit factor, should not be the only party evaluating different solutions.  Architects should not be taking direction from contractors on products under CMc.  What is the expectation under IPD?  Everyone designs!

Architects’ Fees

Sometimes, some architects dump some of their work into the laps of CMs.  But there’s that owner-architect contract and those general conditions of the contract that spell out the architect’s roles, responsibilities, and obligations, and that delineates architects’ fees.  Whether or not they actually accomplish all those obligations, whether the contractor is designing the roof-edge drainage system, or the architect is designing the roof-edge drainage system, the architect gets the fee for designing the roof-edge drainage system. 

Architects, do you plan to transfer more of this type of work in the future, under an ever more team-oriented agreement such as IPD?  Do you think that “teaming” means doing less of the work that architects have traditionally done, and getting the same fees?  Do you understand that if you keep giving away work, such as technical design work, you will keep receiving lower and lower fees over time?  Do you know what IPD may lead to in the future? 

Under CMc, the CM usually gets a preconstruction fee.  Preconstruction services are often a great value to a project and to an owner.  But that fee has to come out of the one project cost “pie” that the owner has.  When one party does less work, another has to do more work, and should be compensated properly for that work.  There’s one “pie” of one size.  The more work architects give away, whether contracted to do that work or not, the lower their fees should be.  Is this what architects want?  It’s not what I want.  

The Technically-Minded Architect

Architects, get, and keep, a technically-minded architect on your team.  In house, out-of-house, wherever, but keep this person under your umbrella.  Pay this person fairly.  You know you need him or her under design-bid-build, to reduce change orders and to preserve your reputation.  CMc can be a better value for the owner if the architect has this technical person on the design team.  Architects, if you want less erosion of architect fees under IPD, you need a technically-minded architect on your team.  If you don’t have people like this, and you want to start developing some, a good place to start is by getting some of your team members involved in CSI, the Construction Specifications Institute.  There are CSI chapters all over the United States.  Canada’s equivalent is the CSC, Construction Specifications Canada.   

Teamwork Summary

Demand that each member pull his own weight.

Put the right party on each task.

The right party to evaluate the suitability of products and assemblies and systems, without the influence of profit to gain, should be on the design team.  This will provide the best value to the owner.

Architects, if you don’t have one, get a technically-minded architect on your team. 


7 thoughts on “The Meaning of Teamwork

  1. “I do not doubt that IPD will make the construction industry more efficient. But, I think it will not make aesthetic design better overall, and I think that worse aesthetic design, in general, will be bad for the built environment. ………… In a team relationship such as CMc, the design professional is supposed to be the party evaluating different solutions for their aesthetic value and their performance value over the life-cycle of a building, and the contractor is supposed to be the party evaluating these different solutions for their scheduling and cost issues and installer issues. The contractor, because of the profit factor, should not be the only party evaluating different solutions. Architects should not be taking direction from contractors on products under CMc. What is the expectation under IPD? Everyone designs!”

    I totally agree with your comments about good teamwork. In order for a team approach to be successful, the parties must be competent and be willing to work together. There must be a good team leader to keep the team on track. The parties must understand their roles making good contributions within their expertise and respect the contributions of others.

    I would not however blame teamwork oriented project delivery systems (negotiated contracts, CMc, and IPD) for bad teamwork performance. The concept of a team approach to a project from the early stages of a project is good even though the performance of the team may be bad on some projects. If the architect/engineer lets technical issues fall to the contractor by default, that is the fault of the architect/engineer and the team leader, not the project delivery system. An incompetent architect/engineer should have not been selected for a team approach.

    I would add to your Team Work Summary:

    Ensure owner clearly establishes the criteria for the project and has a staff member or a consultant who has sufficient knowledge and experience in design/construction.

    Select a team leader who will lead and control the team so that the expertise of each member is properly utilized.

    Select team members who are competent in their own fields. That means contractors who are experts in costing, scheduling, and constructibility; and architects and engineers who are experts in meeting program requirements, aesthetics, technical/detailed design, etc.

    Use the collective expertise of the team members to produce a successful project.

    • Bob,
      As always, thank you for your insights. I very much appreciate them.
      My fear is that as the proportion of team approach delivery methods is increasing, the proportion of competent AEs is decreasing. It’s not a direct relationship, and I don’t think one is caused by the other, but the decline of the competency of AEs is ENABLED by the increase in the number of projects delivered via a team approach.

  2. I would change your last statement to: “the decline of the competency of AEs is EXPOSED by the increase in the number of projects delivered via a team approach.” iI you decrease the number of team approach projects, it is not going to increase the competency of architects. Increasing the technical competency of architects should be the concern – that is the root problem you have described in this and other blogs..

  3. H. Maynard Blumer, FAIA, FASI

    Team Team. What is a team? Maybe a group with a goal, a game. Most games have rules (fundimentals as set down in A201 regardless of the document being used, if there is to be any ethics in the game). Also there must be controls. There is where team play gets confused. The controls, the rules, and the rulers,

    Before you form a team you must have the controls. The first is a complete specification. I said complete.

    Next, if possible, a schemetic design.

    With these a team can be asumbled. But not before.

    Oh yes, The controler, the referee. That is the Archtect. The arbitor and judge. (I have a paper out on that with all the case law quotes.) If the team is assembled before the construcdtion is begun, then the arbitor and judge must extend foward into that area.

    It is simple and has been true since the days of master builders and old english law.

    Hold to your ethics and play a fair team game.
    (This bog thing is new to this old man. How do you run the spell check?)


  4. New reader, who just found your blog. I am from Canada, and am finding the opposite, that most of the work is being dumped from the CM’s to the architect. Is this something you’ve come across? Is there a way to maintain the balance, and accurately perform Contract Administration if we aren’t privy to the Owner-CM contract?

    • Thanks for reading!

      Tough question! The short answer is THERE’S NO WAY AN ARCHITECT CAN ADMINISTER THE CONTRACT FOR CONSTRUCTION WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT’S IN THE CONTRACT FOR CONSTRUCTION. Remember, the contract for construction includes the agreement, the conditions of the contract, the drawings, the specs, and addenda.

      In this post, I was writing about Construction Manager as Constructor projects (also called CMc, CM/GC [construction manager/general contractor], and CMAR [construction manager at risk]). Most of the CMc projects I’ve worked on have used AIA Document A133 (Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Construction Manager as Constructor where the basis of payment is the Cost of the Work Plus a Fee with a Guaranteed Maximum Price). Here’s a link to more info on that document . AIA A201, The General Conditions for the Contract for Construction, is used with this Owner-Contractor agreement, just as it is with the A101 Owner-Contractor agreement (which is used on most of the hard bid projects I work on). Once construction starts, the duties that the architect and contractor and owner have under A133 are the same as their duties under A101.

      As a spec writer, I ask for a copy of the Owner-Architect Agreement before my Architect-Consultant Agreement is executed, and I ask for a copy of the proposed Owner-Contractor Agreement, the General Conditions of the Contract and the Supplementary Conditions of the Contract before I start work on Division 01 of the specifications. I can’t properly prepare my own agreement without knowing what’s in my client’s agreement with the owner. I can’t properly prepare Division 01 without knowing what’s in the Owner-Architect Agreement and the Owner-Contractor Agreement. The architect doing CA can’t properly do CA without knowing what’s in the specs, on the drawings, and in the agreements and the conditions of the contract.

      Although the AIA A201, the General Conditions of the Contract, is attached to the Owner-Contractor Agreement, it’s actually referenced in AIA B101, an Owner-Architect agreement. AIA B101 actually INCORPORATES A201 AS PART OF THAT AGREEMENT by reference – binding the architect to the obligations spelled out as the architect’s in the Owner-Contractor agreement.

      Is it preconstruction work that you’re referring to as being dumped on the architect by CMs? (Surely it’s not actual construction!) Or is it a CM as Advisor situation, in which the CM is not the constructor, a different General Contractor is the constructor, and the CM is the owner’s agent? I don’t have any experience with projects constructed under CMa, which often uses AIA A132 as the Owner-CM Agreement.

      I see how that could happen, but to prevent this scope creep, good agreements have to be drafted, with roles and responsibilities clearly defined. All team members have to know what’s in those agreements, AND there’s no reason team members shouldn’t see other team members’ contracts. I ask my architect-clients to black out confidential information on the agreements, such as fee information, if they wish.

      Thanks again for reading, and thanks for your comment.

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