Do you remember The Dream Team? If you don’t remember the 1992 Olympics, then maybe you binged the documentary The Last Dance and watched one of, if not the, best basketball teams ever assembled in action on your TV. The magic of the team, which famously included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, and many other NBA MVP’s and Hall of Famers, was of course made up of individual power houses. Players so talented and capable, any team would benefit from their presence. But what made this team The Dream Team, was their collective and unified work ethic and core values. All these men were once competitors on the court, but together as representatives of the United States, they shared the same vision and were willing to work together to achieve it.
It may seem a little far fetched to compare the Olympic Games with commercial construction, but I know that in our industry, we all take a similar level of pride in our work and the finished product. And for our clients, who doesn’t want to hire a dream team? On a project team, you need to know you can trust the architect and contractor to work well together and lead the rest of the team to success as well. Your success hinges on their ability to do that. Whether your project is design-build and you’re hiring an already-paired architect and contractor team, or you’re assembling your own team and want to ensure both designer and builder can collaborate well together, here’s my top pieces of advice to hire your own dream team.
- Compare Company Cultures
An architect and contractor can have similar years of experience, portfolios full of your project type, and great references, but if their company cultures and their core values don’t align — your project can and will most likely suffer. For example, if the architect you hire is an innovative visionary and your contractor is all about making the client happy (in other words a “yes man”), they could show you renderings and a project plan for a building you assume is within budget, but will never work. However, if you hire a design team and a builder who both value being honest and understand how to maximize their client’s budget while balancing the vision with constructability, than you’ll be able to trust your team will deliver the project they’ve promised and the project you expect.
- Call Your Own List of References
If you’ve ever given someone a list of references, you know that the names on that list are usually satisfied clients, happy employers, and close co-workers — all guaranteed to issue a glowing review. Instead of asking potential teams for references, ask them for the last five clients they worked with and call them yourself. Every project is going to have its challenges and problems, but other owners can tell you if the architect and contractor were able to work together and find a solution.
- Be in the Room
Once you’ve called around, done your research, and have your list narrowed down to just a few teams, I’d advise sitting in on a work session with each team. I’ve been on both sides, as an owner and as part of the design-build team, and I know that in our industry it’s common to try to keep project secrets close to the vest and to only interact with the teams during the interview process. But I believe you’ll get the best feel for each team if you’re in the room and able to see how they interact and collaborate. A team that has experience successfully working together will stand out from a team that hasn’t collaborated before. They’ll play off each other’s ideas, understand each other, and almost be able to finish each other’s sentences. That kind of chemistry and partnership is what you want on your dream team, and while it can be practiced and rehearsed for an interview, it can’t be faked during a real work session.
- Capability Over Years of Experience
If you’re hiring a team to build your project, especially one in a highly specialized sector like healthcare, you’re probably looking for someone with the most years of experience building projects like yours. While experience is important, I’d argue that the most years in the industry doesn’t always mean the best choice. A team with less years of specific market sector experience could have more wisdom or capability to offer. For example, the superintendent with 10 years of experience could be an innovator, looking to use new technology and materials to build faster and better. I think there should be room in our industry to give newer, younger teams a chance. In fact, I’d go a step further to say the best team, is a team that blends experience. If you don’t have that blend on a team, you have veteran builders who may fight technology and innovation and younger teams who aren’t learning those essential, traditional building skills. So, instead of looking to see which team has the largest collective years of experience, look at the individual talents and the capability they have together as a team.
The collaboration between architect and contractor can make or break a project. Whether you’re looking at bid packages from already assembled design-build teams, or hiring each separately, you need to know the two teams can work as one with your best interests in mind at all times. I’d encourage you to keep these points in mind during your next proposal process. A team with similar cultures and core values is key. And the best way to ensure the team you select has aligned values is to call your own references, sit it on a work session, and look at the total picture of their experience — not just total years.