Put teamwork on the agenda

If collaborative partners outline their individual roles before work starts, it can eliminate confusion further down the line, says Nick Blyth

Whether for a single project or longer-term agreement, ‘partnering’ can make a real difference to project efficiency as well as to the overall working environment.

Partnering, in this technical sense, involves the setting up of an agreement, including all the parties involved in a project, to address how best to meet everyone’s needs. When it is managed well, it offers the design world a real alternative to more ‘adversarial’ projects.

It defines the relationships between parties as well as their needs and objectives for the project. These are agreed and published as a written document, which is signed by every organisation involved. Each party to the project still has to undertake their obligations: normal agreements and appointments between parties are maintained, with the partnering agreement sitting alongside. But a better understanding of the needs of the other team members, and therefore a closer working relationship, is formed. Effectively, this means that from inception, the project is centred on a shared commitment and mutual trust, which means everyone has something to gain.

Designers can, for example, control time issues, by writing into the agreement the date when information is required, to ensure they are allocated a set and fair amount of time to respond to any issues that may arise. Indeed, an agreement means that consultants, contractors and clients alike can all concentrate on getting their job done rather than protecting themselves and fighting against frustrating and timely squabbles.

Partnering encourages an efficient, co-operative approach that can transform a diverse group of individuals, egos, and cultures into a harmonious and efficient working team. Potential grievances and issues are addressed in advance, requirements are stipulated and a working method is commonly agreed upon. Basically, everyone is agreeing to be fair, reasonable and prompt. Erroneous claims, the chasing of information, lingering arguments leading to solicitors’ fees, and dealing with difficult and evasive people, can all be minimised or even eradicated.

As architects and project managers, we now frequently instigate and manage partnering agreements, because their record of success over the past ten years has made them increasingly popular. For retail clients, such as Selfridges and Austin Reed, the partnering contracts I have been involved in have always taken the basis of a written agreement, and both the process and the results have been incredibly well received.

It can be as simple as having an open meeting at the outset of a project, to confirm agreements for a set of pre-arranged issues raised by the team. Setting up a partnering workshop for the principal parties, before a project has even started, creates a level playing field. The written agreement (nothing too involved, just a set of principles and needs) is kept at hand to remind the signatories to keep to the rules during all of the project stages, from concept to completion. It is just common sense, but sometimes the terms need to be written down and everyone involved needs to sign on the dotted line, as most people working in the industry expect a bun fight, with the best fighter emerging as the winner. A partnering agreement, on the other hand, makes everyone a winner.

As new parties join the group, they become part of the culture of co-operation and share the benefits that it brings. It is vital that all parties to the project join in with the partnering ethos. This is not difficult, as it is obvious that there are benefits for all and no downside. Any company which will not be party to an agreement to work together and co-operate, has no part to play in any project I am involved with.

Crucially, this work culture is a pleasure to be a part of. The adversarial culture, that has historically been endemic in the construction industry and elsewhere, does not need to continue. Partnering agreements can offer greater profit and a faster turnaround. Better results are achieved because the team is concentrating on moving forward together. This harmonious relationship is evident in the details, the finish and the bottom line. Give them a chance and people do want to work as part of a close-knit team in a helpful environment.

Nick Blyth is architect and project manager at Blyth Wyatt Budd

Partnering

• It is useful to set an agreement about the scope of work between all the parties working on a project

• This not only helps in terms of efficiency, but lays out the needs of other team members

• The agreement is the best place for consultancies to build in their time requirements for a project

• This can be done by just a simple meeting at the start of a job, or by a more complex method

• New partners and their commitments and needs can easily be embedded

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