Tips for managing complex teams

Integrated designs, integrated teams

As today’s buildings get more complex, project teams are becoming more complex, too. That’s a good thing. It means that the architecture, engineering, and construction industries are becoming more collaborative. It means that we’re working more closely together to create sustainable buildings and build better communities. It also means that our projects have got a lot of moving parts and players, which can be tough.

Completing a project with professionals from different disciplines and designing with those disciplines in mind is referred to as “integrated design.” Integrated design as a concept has been around for about 30 years and can be broadly interpreted. “Integrated design could be seen in a couple of ways,” says urban designer and advisor at Metabuild Dietmar Böstfleisch, who has managed diverse teams and projects all around the world. “It goes back to multidisciplinary design teams where you work on a project with experts in different fields, following design and sustainability principles through integrated aspects of the building and community.”

Integrated design is a process that requires input from many sources and the cooperation of many people. Here are some tips for project managers who want to successfully lead diverse teams to create the most successful building and planning projects:

Learn from each other

It may seem simple, but it’s important to remember that being a good team leader means being a good listener. Seeking to understand the expertise of others and showing that you value it builds trust. Depending on others’ knowledge is key, particularly because it will be different from your own. Every team member brings something to the table, so keep your ears and eyes open.

Individual team members can sometimes focus narrowly too narrowly or get in the way of productivity, but Böstfleisch notes that even with the toughest partners, it’s worth taking a step back to listen rather than assume bad intentions. “A good team effort is when we all learn from each other. In order to get integrated design on its way, that is the best practice,” he says.

Keep pushing the envelope

Especially when working with clients from outside the building industries who may not understand your decision making, you must push the envelope. Don’t accept “no” for an answer if you really believe your designs and plans have taken their full host of needs into consideration. Work with them to understand why they feel that way and listen to their concerns. Oftentimes, you’ll find that you’ve already addressed those concerns, but haven’t presented the information in way they can fully grasp. As many designers and planners know, sometimes it’s not the idea that is bad, but the way it’s presented.

Explain your design decisions, your budgets, and your ideas in multiple ways. Put yourself in the shoes of the client as much as possible, but also challenge them to think the way designers think, to plan the way developers plan, to build the way contractors build. Reaching common understanding is the best thing you can do to satisfy your clients and build the best building that suits their needs and those of the ultimate users.

When working on a master planning project in the United Arab Emirates, Böstfleisch and his multidisciplinary team successfully convinced a client to consider a centralized water system after many rounds of discussion. While the municipality didn’t get on board with the plan, the experience inspired Böstfleisch to continue fighting for adoption of integrated and sustainable design principles. “If you convince them in the discussions and in the work, you can change the point of view of the client where they take ownership and fight for it,” he says.

Demonstrate the importance of innovation and technology

It’s easy to get set in our ways. We see something that works and we stick with it. But that’s not the best mindset when collaborating, and it’s certainly not helpful when you’re trying to create change. When managing a team, it’s crucial to showcase how innovation and creativity can really create the best results.

“When you have a very diverse team of different disciplines, there are always some people who haven’t been very innovative or used to new ideas,” says Böstfleisch. “It’s good project management to pull them along. A lot of times it’s hard at the beginning, but it’s very rewarding at the end when those integrated design principles have been followed through.”

Don’t stick to the status quo or allow your teammates to say, “this is how we’ve always done it.” Instead, try suggesting new things and encourage them to do the same.

There are a million different ways you can collaborate in our digital world. Perhaps your innovation is best demonstrated through new project management and communications tactics. Suggest shorter meetings, virtual meetings, or new online project management tools. Trying something different in the way you approach a project will inspire new ideas for the project itself.

You can easily take your adoption of technology to the next level. Introduce a building simulation tool that will help you assess your design and energy efficiency options. Ask your collaborators to contribute by assessing alternate layouts, orientations, or systems and materials using BIM data. And you can use METABUILD to further showcase your commitment to innovation. METABUILD offers an AI-driven and simulation-based decision-support technology that make it much easier to assess design ideas. Not only will your projects’ environmental, comfort, and cost performance dramatically improve, you’ll demonstrate leadership and show your colleagues that you’re not afraid of trying something new.

…and make sure you’re all pulling the same rope

Whatever your management style, learning to successfully lead diverse and complex teams will be critical to your growth as well as your projects’ success. And that’s what integrated design is all about: creating to most successful projects. “Integrated design means that we’re all pulling on the same rope,” according to Böstfleisch. “If you have somebody trying to pull it in a different way, the whole design will be at least slowed down, if not worse.”