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4 Essential Steps for Being a Collaborative GC Partner on Your Next Construction Project

4 Essential Steps for Being a Collaborative GC Partner on Your Next Construction Project

By Matt Verderamo

One of my mentors always tells me: “In business—especially architecture, engineering, and construction—communication is the differentiator.”  A lot of GCs handle problems the exact opposite way:

  • They don’t trust their Subs
  • So they don’t communicate key information
  • Because they don’t want them to use it against them

Which then leads to those Subs:

  • Not trusting the GC
  • Concealing their own information
  • And constantly trying to find ways to “get one over” on the GC

It’s really an ugly cycle.  But I’m here to tell you from my 7 years as a Subcontractor, that it doesn’t have to be this way.  I’ve worked with some really collaborative GCs. Ones who not only trusted their Subs, but went as far to say, “we are nothing without our subs.” It all starts with good, honest communication at the beginning of the project.

The projects with these GCs consistently produce better Owner/Architect/GC/Sub relationships, more positive jobsite culture, and deliver better projects. Here’s the simple but essential 4-step approach collaborative GCs use to make it happen:

1. Have a Pre-Project Kick Off

If you want to build a collaborative team, the first thing you need to do is get that team in the same room together. The pre-project kick off meeting is a great time to do that:

  1. Invite the architect, owner’s rep, and key subs.
  2. Set aside a few hours, and buy everyone pizza.

I had one GC do this for a $100MM Community College project. From day one, it made me feel like an important part of the project who knew all the stakeholders. By 8 months into the project, those stakeholders started becoming friends. As a result, our team—and the other team’s in that meeting — had a real connection to each other. We all worked great together.

It works really well, and it gives you an opportunity to set some really important expectations.  The next 3 steps are all Agenda items you can use in this meeting.

2. Share The Project’s Mission

Once you have everyone together, the best thing you can do is share the project’s Mission.

In the example above, the Mission of the project was to produce the best Health and Life Science Building in the Maryland Community College System. The GC clearly identified that the students were the priority: make this building great for them. And it totally made all the Subcontractors in the room feel like we were a part of something deeper than our scope of work.

Compare this to the normal Mission your Subs would have of “making money” and you can see why having a deeper mission leads to more collaboration and better outcomes.

GCs can control this motivation by simply being clear about why we’re here to build this project.  It’s a really cool way to be collaborative.

3. Tell Your Team’s Story

After you share the Project Mission, then you should get deeper into your team’s story.

For this step, I believe the most effective way to tell your story is to compare yourself to bad project teams so that the juxtaposition shows your dedication to being different.  This may sound like:

“My name is Katherine and I’m going to be the Senior PM running this project. I have been a part of some really bad projects in the past, as I’m sure many of you have been too. I’m talking about projects where no one trusts each other, everyone is only looking out for themselves, and we end up being late and over budget.

In fact, I remember one time specifically that I really screwed up because I didn’t give my Sub some important context and it led to them making a really bad decision onsite that set us back 3 weeks. I tell you this because I want you to know my commitment to never running a project like this again. I am here to be collaborative, open, and honest because in my experience, that leads to the best outcomes. That is my commitment to you.

And if you ever catch me acting outside of those commitments, I want you to call me out for it. And if I ever catch you doing it, I will feel comfortable doing the same. This is the type of GC we want to be. And these are the types of Subs we want to be on this project.”

That short story-telling of past mistakes and a commitment to being better will resonate with all of the parties involved and set the project up for success from day one.

4. Communicate Your Contractual Philosophy

The Contract is always the elephant in the room.  But the most collaborative GCs I have seen don’t let the Contract stand in the way of building great projects.  So what do they do?  They communicate their contractual philosophy.

Some teams bring up the contract all the time. No matter your question or objection, they send you an email stating which article in the Contract to follow.

But other teams aren’t that way. Other team’s actually listen to their Subs and want to know any issues with the Drawings and Specs—and more importantly, are willing to follow logic when it contradicts the Contract Documents. Usually, these same GCs hardly ever bring up the Contract, and instead create an expectation that Subs own their scope of work, and don’t send change orders for every small thing.

When Subs feel comfortable that they’re not always going to get screwed by the Contract, they’re more willing to do a little extra work here and there that they know they should realistically own anyway.

In my opinion, the logical approach works WAY better than the “do what the Contract says” approach, but either way you need to make it clear early and often how you plan to use the Contract in running the project.

“We all want to be on a great project.”

Construction projects are crazy because they can totally change your life for 1-4 years.  Every day, you have to wake up and go to that jobsite and be with that same group of people.  And unfortunately, most projects are “bad projects”: People argue and fight, no one trusts each other, and it’s hard for the teams to wake up and go to the job every day.  It sucks, and it doesn’t have to be that way.  One mentor I look up to always say, “We all want to be on a great project.”  And it’s true isn’t it?  If you never have experienced it, there are some projects that you actually feel sad when they end because of how great it was.  So if you’re going to sink 1-4 years of your life into something, why not make it a great project?  You have the ability to make every project a great project.  Just be collaborative, have a pre-project kick off, and communicate often.  Give it a try, and let me know what you think.

Matt Verderamo is passionate about making the construction industry a better place to work for all people. His weekly newsletter, Building Balance™️, helps construction professionals accelerate their careers (without burning out). He is a strategic consultant at Well Built Construction Consulting and Board Member of the Building Congress & Exchange Foundation. Connect with him on LinkedIn.