Interviews With the Team: A Lot of Work, But Well Worth the Trouble
It was important right from the beginning of the project, even before a line was drawn on paper, that we document the process. We weren’t quite sure what that meant, but we knew that we wanted to make the process repeatable, we wanted to learn from our mistakes and successes and we wanted to gauge any differences in opinion of team members as the project progressed. So, as part of the communications team, I took on the task of interviewing each of our team members.
Someone asked me why the general contractor was doing the interviews. My response was simple: being a construction-sustainability person, I had capacity in the design phase of the project. Combined with the fact that I like talking to people and wanted to be part of the interviews, it made perfect sense for me to take on this task.
Other than organizing interview times with 20 people, which was slightly complicated, the process was hugely rewarding. In fact, I thought to myself on more than one occasion how lucky I was to be able to chat so candidly with our team members. There were people on the team that I had never really spoken to, and suddenly had the opportunity to dig into their thoughts.
This isn’t to say that I suddenly knew everyone’s life story; the interviews were only 15 minutes each, but I definitely gained new insight. Since I was not a neutral party, but the general contractor, it was important for me to create safety with each person. I wanted to ensure that people felt comfortable being candid, even if it involved Chandos. It is hard to say how effective I was with this, but I do know that at least one person was honest about a past project with us that had not gone perfectly. So, I like to think that I did create trust and safety.
Interviews were 15 minutes each and we asked nine questions:
- Has the process to date been effective?
- How does the process compare to your experience on other projects?
- What has the project team’s ability to function as a team been like so far?
- What is the level of trust with team members? Are you confident commitments will be met?
- Do you feel safe expressing your opinions?
- Accountability. What has the team’s ability to issue deliverables been like so far?
- Do you find you have had adequate input into the process/design so far?
- What is your greatest fear about this project?
- If you could make any changes to the process right now, what would it be?
Some interesting tidbits came out of the interviews: many people didn’t think our process – charettes with a large group of participants – was extremely effective. Many thought we could have had smaller break out groups rather than the large meetings which took up hours of time. However, most people acknowledge that this process, although not perfectly effective, was still good.
Team members understood why many people needed to be in the room so that buy-in was created across the team. Even more interesting, many people rated this experience better than what their experiences had been on other projects. So, we likely haven’t nailed down the perfect IPD process, but we are still functioning better than a tradition project.
One of the other really important pieces of information that came out of these interviews was the safety people felt. Most people answered that the feeling of safety to express opinions was either excellent or good. The few that rated this question lower were people who freely admitted to me that it was their own personality leading to this discomfort, rather than the team. This feeling of safety was extremely important to Christy and Dennis, and it was great news to hear that all their hard work establishing a trusting and respectful environment was effective.
What was the greatest fear? Overwhelmingly, cost came up. Cost killing the project and/or cost causing fear and ultimately compromising design were the two biggest concerns. Money is important, and fear causes perfectly rational people to make rash decisions. I’m just waiting to see if our openness in discussing these issues, and the raised self-awareness created by the interviews will help to combat some of these fears. I guess only time will tell.