Team Structure – What Does This Really Mean?

by | Mar 29, 2021

The major tenet of design-build is collaboration. Our clients require a solution to their project that is built by a group of highly qualified and experienced design and construction professionals. The collaboration required to meet that demand is not simply between the design-build team and the owner, but also between each of the professionals within the design-build team.

While contractors and designers are forming teams, they often consider what the right organization of the team should look like. Many firms will talk about integrated teams, where the design and construction professionals are from the same firm. Others talk about the benefits of general contractors teaming with design professionals, with all firms weighing the pros and cons of each structure in risk management, cost effectiveness, and communication. With each of these team structure options the client can experience great project delivery results.

As a design-build team evaluates the teaming structure, we must ask ourselves: How will our team structure best serve our client? Recently, a client weighed in on this discussion and said he tried to remain agnostic because the contractual relationship didn’t matter to him as long as the team performed as a real team. I believe this perspective is critical, since these different variants can either be successful or cause issues. The real test is how the team members perform within its structure. With that in mind, the real question we should discuss while forming project teams is: Are the teammates set up to collaborate and succeed? For example, are the construction project manager and design manager capable of truly collaborating and communicating as an effective team no matter the contractual structure? Can the designers convey their intent without a full design being developed and can the estimators determine the cost without that full design?

As we form teams, we must remember that contracts are simply a piece of paper representing an agreement and commitment between the parties to build a solution for the client. The real collaboration cannot be “obligated by contract” but must be part of each team member’s DNA. I would encourage our design-build firms to spend time vetting all team members’ ability to effectively collaborate and communicate. It is vitally important that team members are chosen carefully and project teams are organized appropriately from the beginning. This will give any project team the best chance of success at delivering on the client’s goals.

Brian Walker, Vice President–Water Group, Clark Construction

Brian Walker is vice president for Clark’s Water Group. Brian has more than 15 years of water construction expertise. His career has been focused on the development and construction of water and wastewater treatment facilities, and he has extensive experience with collaborative-delivery methods including design-build and CMAR.