We have facilitated partnering for more than 3,000 projects. This allows us to see patterns. We see what works and what doesn't work to really make partnering successful on projects. We hope that you will shorten your learning curve by utilizing these 14 tips when partnering your projects.

1. You can't just hold a partnering workshop

Most owners implement partnering at the start of construction. Most partnering programs consist of holding a partnering workshop. One workshop is not going to assure that your project team works in partnership.

We found that owners who require quarterly follow-up sessions were far more likely to see the team as a cohesive unit that worked together well over the life of their project. Owners also need to start partnering efforts during design (and for some projects during planning). It is at this point that we have the opportunity to most influence the overall cost and success of the project.

BIM, IPD and Lean all strive to build a team. There is emphasis on bringing the contractor in early so they are a part of the design process. This process should not just be left to happen on its own. A comprehensive partnering program must include partnering workshops with the stakeholders at each phase.

2. Develop a partnering agreement/charter and hold each other accountable

The project partnering agreement or charter outlines the commitments made by the project team and includes:

  • commitments to work together as partners
  • project goals
  • how the project team will manage key project challenge
  • a dispute resolution plan
  • a follow-up and measurement commitment

Follow-up partnering sessions are recommended quarterly. A monthly partnering survey is also recommended. Owners with this level of commitment have assured accountability that the team will follow through on their commitments.

3. What gets measured improves

The monthly partnering survey has proven to provide accountability and important feedback to the project team. With this feedback the team can make course corrections, identify emerging issues and work together towards the good of the project.

A review of 13 projects that implemented monthly scorecards (surveys) over a two-year period showed that 12 of the projects had scores that improved over the life of the project. The 13th project remained unchanged, but had many unforeseen problems that the team successfully addressed.

It has been the experience of most owners and team members that few teams have the resources to follow through with a monthly survey and compile it into a report that can be used by the team. The monthly survey is best done by your partnering facilitator. They are neutral, so no one need fear telling the truth.

4. Rewards and awards work

If you want partnering to be your culture, then you must recognize those who are doing a great job at it. This needs to be a public acknowledgement. Some owners have partnering awards. Some have monetary bonuses. Owners that make promotions based on the person's ability to successfully partner are truly driving a partnering culture.

Plaques, certificates, hats, hard hat stickers and of course money can serve as a part of your reward/award process.

5. Culture change takes work

Culture change hasn’t occurred until behavior at the project level has changed. To change the culture of any organization takes a long-term, on-going, concerted effort. It is not easy. Many owners give up. Some never try.

Yes, this will be a daunting task. It will take several years. But if you keep at it, it will eventually begin to change.

By measuring your results you can help your project team keep moving forward. You will also have to help the other stakeholders change their culture. The most benefit comes when everyone is focused and in alignment toward the success of the project.

6. Partnering can be learned

The best news is that partnering can be learned. With a well-structured partnering program your people can learn what they need to do to implement your program at the project level. Team members can also learn new skills for assuring that their project partnering is successful. These include negotiation, facilitation, communication, dealing with change, leadership, etc.

The best partnering programs have a training curriculum for their project teams. They require and reward training in partnering skills at the project level.

7. Drive decision-making down to the project level

The best decisions, those that are best for the project, occur closest to the problem/issue. We need to empower our field teams to take ownership of problems and to work to resolve them. Many owners do not empower their field teams; they have no authority and must ask others for answers.

This diminishes the team’s ability to form and create great solutions on the project. We understand that not all owner representatives are created equally, but if they are running your project they needs to have some level of authority, or you have the wrong person in place.

8. Have a clear chain of command

Confusion always creates chaos. It is very important that there is a clear chain of command and well understood roles and responsibilities. When there is an issue, and the field team disagrees, and they don’t know where to take the issue for resolution, they get stuck. It does not take too long for the working relationships to become strained.

Owners that require the development and use of a dispute resolution ladder help the team to be clear on the chain of command and how issues will flow.

9. Get stakeholders to your partnering workshops

At the project level it is important to invite third parties to your partnering workshops. These third parties are those who can potentially have a negative affect your project.

The objective is to have them become a part of your team, so they work with, not against, you. Many owners who have developed a good strategic level relationship are finding that, at the project level, more third party organizations willing to participate in the partnering.

It is important to note, that for some owners, the third parties causing the most heartburn are from their own organizations. So look inside as well as outside for those stakeholders you need to bring along with you.

10. Don't let issues sit around — Use dispute resolution processes

Far too often project leaders and senior leaders fail to resolve a problem before it has a negative impact on the project. This is a failure of the team. Mostly this is the owner’s failure. The owner must drive the norm that issues must be resolved, optimally by the team, but if necessary, using the dispute processes previously agreed upon.

Many owners are silent on this or they allow disputes to go on for months and months. It is not unusual for disputes to begin to pile up. Teams are left with unresolved issues, which creates fear about how they will ultimately be resolved.

Fear and trust can not coexist, so your partnership is jeopardized.

11. Weekly meetings are an important part of your partnering effort

A weekly partnering/progress meeting is needed for the team to stay on track. This meeting serves to keep the team moving together in a coordinated manner. It helps align expectations, identifies outstanding issues and evaluates how the partnership is proceeding.

We still come upon projects that are using email and voicemail instead of a weekly meeting, or they are cutting back their weekly meeting to bi-weekly or monthly. A team must act like a team, and that is a critical element of the weekly meeting. It also offers a place for third parties to participant, and a place for the team to evaluate their monthly partnering survey.

12. Hold a lessons-learned workshop at closeout

Holding a lessons-learned partnering workshop at project closeout is a powerful reinforcement tool for your partnering culture change. The team works to identify what lessons they learned and what advice they would pass on to other teams based on their lessons learned.

At this point, the project is complete. The team can share openly what worked and why, and what didn’t work and why. Then they co-create advice to be shared with the other teams working on the owner’s projects.

The team members learn a great deal from this exercise; the younger folks learn from the seasoned folks. This is a good means for transferring know-how.

13. Recognize those who make a difference

Those owners who acknowledge the people who are leading their partnering effort at the project level find that more and more people jump on board and want to win a partnering award and to take on a role as a partnering coordinator. Field leaders, too, can drive this by recognizing the MVP for their project.

14. Projects succeed when the team commits to success

Partnering takes commitment. To change a culture from "adversarial" to "partnership" takes a great deal of effort. We need the owner to be committed. We need each team to commit to working together in partnership. All of the elements in the owner’s partnering program are designed to get the project team to commit to working together as partners.

Teams that do commit to be partners will come upon project problems, address them and figure out how to get back on track. Teams that are adversarial, or use conflict, go back to their corner and come out fighting, using the issues to prove that you can’t trust "the other side." These adversarial teams shift into a protection mode and this leads to a loss for the project.

It is not the issues that determine success or failure, but how the team works together to resolve the issues.

If you implement these tips on your projects, you will take your partnering to the next level — along with your results. We often see cost savings in the range of 10 percent or more. This makes the effort well worth your time.