Have you ever noticed that frustrations flare when there is a lack of communication? I am experiencing that now on a large, complex project. Construction and design are happing all at once, there are many moving parts and, on all sides, communication is failing.
Earlier this week, we had our big room meeting, the all-hands-on-deck meeting: the design team, the general contractor and the major trade partners were in attendance. From the minute the meeting started, I could feel a shift in my energy. I was virtual but could sense the tensions in the room. As part of our big room meeting, we identify what SWARMS we need for the week. SWARMS are small meetings to discuss a specific topic with the right individuals.
I was identified to be in a few SWARMS for that day. The first couple went OK; I was a passive participant in the meetings and took a few notes of things to follow up on. When the third one started, that’s when the sh*t hit the fan, so to say.
The meeting immediately started with some accusing other parties of not providing the correct information, followed by a continuation of their frustration spewing out in accusatory words. I am a generally levelheaded person; not much riles me. If there is an issue or I make a mistake, I will own it and help correct it.
However, I’m not perfect and, in this meeting, my frustrations got the best of me. The meeting was the first time an issue was brought to my attention, so my emotions took over when I was accused of not providing more information.
I could go on for a while about how that meeting made me feel, but at the end of it all, nothing was resolved, and no one left in a good mood. It ruined the day and, even worse, I stewed about for the rest of the day. I replayed it over and over. What could I have said differently to help them understand my point? What if I didn’t lose my cool and raise my voice?
The reality is no one in that room was in a state of mind to receive any message. They were already convinced that their point was the correct point.
Where does a team go from here? Clearly, we can’t stay in this state of dysfunction if we want the project to succeed. I allowed myself to stew and be angry for the rest of the day but then made sure to call the general contractor in the morning to “hug it out.” And in a calm manner, we discussed our points of view.
So, why are these breakdowns happening?
Failure to listen to understand the issue;
Failure to articulate the issues;
Failure to speak up early;
Lack of trust.
Our team also is challenged with individuals located in several different states. I think we forget conversations happen at a local level that no one else on the team is aware of.
Build Back Trust
How do we move on from here and get back to a cohesive team? It will be hard and take a lot of work from all sides, but we can get there.
First and foremost, we need to regain trust in each other. In this instance, I think the lack of trust comes from not everyone being able to be in the job trailer on a regular basis.
The members failing to speak up or articulate the issues feel as if they are being set up for failure by a lack of support from the design team. The design team is feeling frustrated when those in the field don’t speak up. While the design team is always available via phone, email, etc., some parties don’t seem comfortable with that avenue.
Second, it’s important to remember that because a topic has been talked about from your perspective, it doesn’t mean the rest of the team has been made aware of the issues. Remember to speak up immediately when your needs or expectations are unmet. We can guess your needs, but I’d rather you speak the truth no matter how hard it may be.
“The biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw
Pick up your phone, send a text or an email when your needs aren’t being met. Sure, the conversation might be hard or awkward, but it is always better than saying nothing. If you don’t know how to bring up the issue, just say it.
If someone approaches you, put your distractions away and listen to what they are saying. Acknowledge them and talk through issues together. The only way to dig out of a lack of communication and broken trust is to work on it one topic at a time until the end is reached. It is hard work and potentially could create more work, but the positive outcomes are worth the struggle.