How to Become a Facilitator of Collaboration in the Construction Industry

By Justin James

We have been taught how to create models and how models can be appended together to make an entire building including its building services, but how we work together has often been misinterpreted. Do we simply all design in the same environment and say that’s collaboration? Or can we go beyond this?

Communication is key to facilitating change.

In this article, not only do we discuss how you can engage with each other, we also inspire you to become the facilitator of change. We have taught a number of owner/developers how to feel empowered, embrace the change toward virtual design, and then facilitate its use on their next project. True collaboration through Building Information Modelling (BIM) should be directed from the top, with expectations set and met. Efficiency driven with the end in mind. With a facilitator driving everyone forward from the beginning of the project, we have structure.

REACH was formed in 2013 based on what we like to call the untaught part of the industry or the never talked about part, us — yes, we mean you! How we interact, communicate, behave, react — how we are human. In such a short period, we have learned that it is not all about software; rather, it is about our clients and their needs and desires. They all have a personality, whether it’s an individual, a specific team, or a company personality or ethos. Anyone can teach software from a manual. If it was that easy we all would have adopted collaborative working and true BIM collaboration a long time ago and our projects would be RFI/change order free!

We’re not saying that you don’t communicate with your extensive teams — it’s not about telling someone they are wrong. They aren’t wrong.

We’re not saying that you don’t communicate with your extensive teams — it’s not about telling someone they are wrong. They aren’t wrong. You have all survived until today and you are all successful in your own right. We just believe there is another way, sometimes a more efficient way and we want to make you even more successful.

This is of course an opinion, one that we strongly believe in and through past clients can prove that working together in a more efficient manner can often give excellent results. No one likes change, so this has to be approached delicately, with respect for our already successful companies which are the result of successful forward thinkers. When we ask the question, “Would you like to be more efficient and better at what you do on a daily basis?” there aren’t many individuals that respond with, “No thank you — I am perfect the way I am.”

BIM has been around for some time now, since the mid-70s, so why did it take us (the construction sector) so long to catch on to this method of design and why have we still not adopted it wholeheartedly as an industry?

To address the first of those questions, let us take a moment and look at two very large, well-known industries that were early adopters, the automotive and aviation industries. We can leave specific companies out, as all sectors and disciplines of these two industries all switched across into virtual design methods or information models. Two companies have both shared their desires for us to ‘catch up’ to them, offering advice and even chest thumping and telling us how easy it is at specific events! But we still didn’t wholeheartedly commit. Why?

We feel the answer is in the lack of post-event support! Allow me to explain. We agree that it is very stimulating to see success stories and to hear how well a company or industry has adopted change, but we often don’t see the how. What we get presented with is only the results. Whilst we leave empowered we lack the support after the presentation regarding how we can achieve the same. The answer for many years has been, teach them software. We figured this to be complete madness! Why? Let’s use a similar analogy to illustrate the issue.

We expect you to communicate differently by teaching you a new piece of software. Where did this idea come from? We dehumanized the change that was needed. You can’t change the way we behave by teaching software, you have to change us. Give us new tools to communicate and the software merely becomes the platform of how to instigate the change.

Become a Facilitator for Virtual Collaboration on Your Next Project
How? You have to begin to think outside the box and respect the fact that you don’t know everything!

First, let’s discuss this ‘software thing.’ For many years, we have had companies offer us the software training, then leave and say, “How was the culture shift?” Where was the training in assisting you to change your culture? The software will only ever be as good as the person who is driving it.

We used to say that technology is driving our industry forward. It kind of is. But who drives, invents, and crafts the software? We do Why? Because we need a platform.

To encourage true change, we must address the culture and mindset of companies and people at those companies. If you would like to become a facilitator, learn more about us and what the industry needs rather than software. The software merely becomes the communication tool. A place to put all our thoughts, wishes, dreams… These are human elements of a design.

The quicker we realize that this is a business development issue, the quicker we shall see change. So yes, that means you must at least become experienced within business development also. How? Hopefully this article helps, but we encourage you to speak to others, learn from the mistakes of others. If you are struggling to find a forum to assist, then start one! We did and we have close to 100 attendees every quarter! Remember the miscommunication you had on your last project? If you don’t make a change, you’ll have the same mistakes again.

Decrease Design Changes Using Virtual Review Meeting Practices
So you’ve begun to see a shift in the mindset, you are beginning to get buy in within your company and/or your external teams, great. The next step is to document it; the Project Execution Plan, for example. Let’s just call it a plan or guide that you have written down.

That is all it needs to be — call it what you like, as long as it is documented. This gives us something to reference and print it out. Not only will you have a document that you can refer to, but it becomes a collaborative document that others can contribute to also. How many of you have used a Project Execution Plan of sorts? You may have used something similar or perhaps in a different format. This is fine.

You may consider using one of the other many sources as a checklist to remember that you are covering all bases. This becomes a communication and collaboration tool, rather than a document of software use. Keep it as a live document, ever changing and growing. Share it so others can contribute.

You have your ‘plan’ and you now need what we call your ‘platform.’ This can be as simple as a meeting room with a TV and a free version of Navisworks Freedom, all of which takes very little effort and little money. Or this could look very different — you could go big and invest in Navisworks, a Smart Board, etc. The choice is yours, but the only premise here is that you are sharing your plan. Communicating an idea to the team then inspires them to take your idea further; more about this later.

Therefore, we call it ‘visual buy in.’ It is just that, a visual stimulus, which encourages change through visuals. Why is it so important to have others visualize your dream? Because it is the easiest way we can ask them to retain the new information, as the image states. We love the phrase, ‘seeing is believing’ — how true it is. So, we like to share our vision in a simple visual format. This creates a belief in the ideas.

Strengthen Your Project Team Through Collaboration and Partnership
Communicating an idea to the team then inspires them to take your idea further. Have you ever heard of the three-quarters baked theory? The intent here is to have a good outline of an idea complete and then ‘risk’ sharing it with others to face the possibility of ridicule. Never knowing whether it was a good idea or not. Release your ideas when they are three-quarters baked and let the rest of your team help you to refine it, grow it, nurture it, and make it complete.

Try a different approach to educating:

1. You lecture: They learn what you know only.
2. You discuss: They begin to ask more and answer back and their opinion becomes empowering.
3. You Inspire: Give guidelines and they not only share with you, but begin to bounce ideas off each other!

What about this new approach to educating/sharing? Changing this up slightly and putting an ever so slight different spin on the possible outcomes means you learning from them too. Something that you inspired to open…

Inspire Your Internal and External Teams to Think Beyond Their Own Obligations
In the past, a company that we have assisted has invited their external teams to the training too. For free! We certainly don’t mind, the more the merrier to join the collaboration wagon.

We’ve found this approach to be beneficial for all parties. It encourages your teams to inspire others too, ‘passing it forward.’ This also assists with having the external teams understand the company’s vision, allowing these external teams in to the meetings helps with creating a clear vision for the entire project. Not just for one team, but the whole team.

Conclusion: What Are We Really Addressing?
Why is this not happening more smoothly within the industry? Because we are not approaching this from the right angle. We are not talking about a new software; we are talking about social change! You could have bought all the software and hardware, you have a beautiful board room and a new BIM manager, but you will also need to address the social change. Most of this relates to us — how we interact, communicate, behave, react, and generally how we are human… Most RFIs/change orders are caused through breakdowns in communication. We are merely trying to mitigate this — mitigate risk.

Justin has lectured on three continents and has been in the construction industry for over 25 years. REACH was founded in 2013 providing virtual collaboration education as part of the shift in industry process.

Learn more with the full class at AU online: How to Become a Facilitator of Collaboration in the Construction Industry.