Message From the President: Defining ‘collaboration’

by Peter Hiebert, CTR
When we talk about ‘collaboration,’ we use a term that could have many meanings and inferences. There seem to be many different definitions when we search the Internet, depending on the scenario, but the basic sense is it involves working with others to produce something. As an association, CSC frequently talks about how it seeks to best “use the collaborative efforts of CSC members, volunteers, staff, and allied associations for the betterment of the
design/construction community.”

Most of us agree collaboration is a good thing, even if we have not quite figured out how to implement it in our business or our contracts. I would suggest inefficient collaboration is better than none at all. It is certainly more desirable than the opposite of collaboration—adversarial communication where threats and defensive behavior take precedence.

Adversarial behaviour is still widespread in the industry. At the beginning of a project, everyone has good intentions, but when a challenge arises, many look at who is to blame or how the problem can be pinned on someone else, instead of working together on a solution. In other words, any sense of collaboration is abandoned for assigning liability.

There has been much discussion on new project delivery methods and on how to develop a collaborative approach in contract form. Initially, I wondered why collaboration was being dictated into a contract, but my guess is ‘blame culture’ is so entrenched in the industry there needs to be a new approach to drive course correction.

The Canadian Construction Documents Committee (CCDC) has started working with this Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) contract concept. In basic terms, it represents a collaborative alliance of people, systems, business structures, and practices in a process harnessing the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.

In practice, the idea is to work as a team to achieve a common goal with shared liability. It will be interesting to see if this approach will work—specifically, when it comes to the shared liability aspect. Creating a collaborative environment depends on the team players, so perhaps a member-vetting process must also be included in this approach. Players who act like respectful, solution-based professionals need to be selected over those ready to pass blame.

Of course, this early in the concept, there simply is not enough data to see if such a new approach will work. I hope this is not just another attempt at the “faster and cheaper” themes I’ve addressed in my previous articles.

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