Consensus Building for Better Buildings

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Candice Burks Rogers, Paladin, Inc.

There are few professions that can match the building industry when it comes to the convergence of disciplines, details and differences.  Over nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of working with my father and watching him lead meetings, handling tense conversations and arriving at decisions that benefit all involved. I don’t take his skills for granted – I’ve seen far too many meetings of talented people facing challenging situations get stalled on the way to a great outcome because the leader lacked that ability.

Given the complexity and budget of the average building project, the strengths of our industry (teamwork, consensus building, and joint decision making) must be optimized to get things done.  While we value high-level skills, the success or failure of an individual and the project upon which he or she works is ultimately decided by each person’s ability to work as part of a well-blended team.

After years under my dad’s tutelage, I strive to apply best practices learned from him and other industry greats when I lead meetings, including:

  1. START WITH CONTEXT: Good team building starts with getting everyone onto the same page. Individuals on teams need context, including what has been accomplished to date, and what needs to be achieved next.  This info should be presented factually and for the purpose of informing!
  2. SHARE INFORMATION: Every voice on a building team should be heard, whether he or she is the Owner, Designer, Contractor, Installing vendor, or Commissioning Authority. Each has a voice and point of view which can greatly contribute to the solution.
  3. STAY ON TRACK. Watch out for tangents. If the subject gets sidetracked, gently state, “This is an important issue.  For today, though, I think we should be focusing on…”
  4. STATE THE OBVIOUS: No matter how “smelly” it might be, it’s always prudent to mention the elephant in the room. If there is a big issue that no one is discussing, but it affects the likelihood of a positive result, bring it up and ask how it impacts the desired outcome.
  5. SPEAK THE TRUTH WITH CARE: Telling the truth with good intent isn’t just good for productive meetings, it’s a good rule for a happy life. Brutal honesty alone does not necessarily improve the conversation. Instead, honest feedback provided with empathy gets the conversation rolling much faster and keeps defenses down.
  6. SET A TIMELINE: The flow of conversation can be unpredictable, so it’s important for a leader to be persistent. Sometimes, when answers are tough to come by, taking a break to decompress during the conversation or even do some research can be helpful. However, leaders must ensure those pauses don’t become an opportunity to avoid coming to a resolution.  If the team is going to take a break, be sure to assign a plan of action and responsible parties, then make sure follow-up occurs.
  7. SHOW APPRECIATION. When the team has battled on its way to success, a closeout celebration is a must. Whether you read certifications or give awards, you must recognize people. When the answer is determined, show your appreciation for the originator of the idea, commend the individuals who improved it and applaud the group for their buy in. This kind of encouragement can make the hard work of consensus building be a little smoother next time as your project team coheres.

No matter how powerful and precise technology becomes, there will always be a need for people to gather together to share ideas and forge a better plan. With these best practices in place, learned from my “meetings sensei,” you can help your team become something more than the just sum of its parts.

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