BIMBeing: The Journey #22
#22 – A united front…
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As I’ve said several times before (Post #21 in particular), AEC is a team effort. It requires a wide range of teams to successfully deliver a project from concept to operation; from client to consultant to contractor, you’ve got many individual teams contributing to an overarching project team. By nature, teams don’t always agree – individuals don’t always agree either, so entire groups of individuals unifying with one another is not often a reality.
One of the most important things however, is showing a united front when it matters. Disagreements will happen and resolutions are not always easily sought, but to any ‘outsider’ your team must appear unified. This is relevant to all teams on all levels, perceptions matter if you want to appear professional and consistent.
This is particularly important for the relationship between senior management and the rest of the team. Disputes will happen, professional debates are welcomed and no opinion should ever be ignored in the process – this is all a part of working with a team. But, by the time the issue in question is presented beyond the immediate team these discussions should be resolved and a consensus should have been met – everyone should be ‘singing from the same sheet’. You’ll look collectively disorganised and indecisive if this isn’t the case, and worse still you’ll look incredibly unprofessional if you start arguing and undermining one-another in the presence of others. Being publically undermined has to be one of the most profound reasons for a breakdown in professional relationships, especially between individuals and their immediate management – in fact, it’s the reason I left one of my earlier positions.
This event is slightly off-topic when it comes to team agreements, but it’s certainly relevant to displaying that ‘united front’. I’d been with the company in question for almost 3 years when it happened; it’s become such a defining moment in my career that I will honestly never forget it. I was working for a small consultancy at the time and was sat in a meeting room with a valuable repeat client, discussing proposals that we’d put together for the next project (one that we’d been told was a vital win for the company). Also in the room are two senior engineers (team leaders), and the company director. I’d been asked to attend for a few reasons: to “showcase the company’s young talent”, discuss the implementation of BIM into the company processes (that I was part of) and, least of all, because I had prepared a large portion of the information being presented. It was an important meeting and, as somebody still near the starting line of their career path, I was feeling quite privileged to be there.
Fast forward 20 minutes or so and the Project Director is discussing some of the information that I’ve prepared. He’s talking in oddly specific, technical detail about a particular topic when completely out of the blue he looks over at me and says, mid-sentence, “Smith, you probably won’t understand this as you haven’t got a technical degree”. Immediate inner rage.
I genuinely could not believe he’d said it. To say that anyway, whilst holding information that I’ve prepared (and obviously therefore understand) is bad enough, to say it in front of other team members is an outrage, but to say it in front of a client is nothing short of absurd. To this day I cannot understand why he thought that was in any way appropriate, or necessary.
Somehow, although absolutely livid, I managed to keep my cool. I responded simply, although quite abruptly, with “yes, I understand it”. The junior member of the team staying professional whilst the company director throws me publically under the bus – this is not how teams should operate (see Post #12 for team effectiveness). The look on the two senior engineers faces at the time were priceless; staring in absolute shock, both of them in visible disbelief. The client too, looking what I can only describe as uncomfortable at the entirely unprovoked comment.
Mr Company Director, although seemingly oblivious to it, had shot himself in the foot multiple times with that single sentence:
- The client is now thinking “wow, look how this guy treats his staff”.
- The client is also thinking “does this company have a team that are educated well enough to deliver what I need?”
- I’m thinking “f*ck you”. Any amount of respect I may have had is now long gone.
- The two senior engineers are also asking themselves questions. “Why has he said that?” and “is this the sort of company I really want to work for?”
- We’re all also thinking “wow, if you’ll say that in front of us then who knows what you’d say when we’re not in the room”
- Also, I have a degree. It was in a slightly different field to my line of work, yes, but that hadn’t stopped me from producing some of the most consistent and reliable information that said company could offer. I’d learnt intensively on the job, and if I do say so myself I was rather good at it (see Post #7).
The meeting finishes and nothing is mentioned; at no point in time did he ever even acknowledge what had happened. Within that very same month I put the word out to a few industry pals, received two job offers (both over and above the position I was in) and handed in my notice – there was absolutely no way I was going to continue working for anybody that thought so little of their staff. In a strange way I have a lot to thank him for; without this incident I may not have left and found myself a new career in BIM. I probably wouldn’t be writing this either – maybe you all wish I’d stayed?
One thing I can commend this individual for is consistency. His consistently awful style of management continues, probably to this day, to drive the company into the ground; within two years of leaving, all but 1 of the 14 individuals I worked with in that team had left the company – that’s one hell of a staff turnover. I kept in touch with many of them, each time we’d meet up another had left whilst those still there would complain about the lack of motivation, team spirit or job satisfaction. There was only ever one common denominator.
There are a few morals then in this recollection of my past. Being part of a team is a good thing, but perceptions of that team matter. Never undermine one another; you’re not in competition with your colleagues, you all succeed when the team succeeds. To those in managerial positions, never do this to anybody. The moment you publically undermine, and on some level embarrass, a member of your team is the day they start looking for another job. Motivation, productivity and above all else respect for the management team can and will be lost in one foul swoop – we can all be better than that.
For AEC in particular, success is in the team. You simply cannot go it alone in this industry, so go out and make those teams work – friendly fire is strictly off limits.