Field Notes from BuildingGreen’s Integrative Process Facilitators

As integrative process consultants, we can help owners become better clients.

An interior lit building in the snow.

A goal setting workshop, led by Candace and Nadav, launched an integrated design process for this $2 million trapezium building belonging to the New England Center for Circus Arts.

Photo: Elsie Smith
As this month’s spotlight report, Integrative Process: Pathways to Performance and Regeneration, shows, there are multiple flavors of integrative process—often cooked up over decades by the individual designers and consultants who have become preeminent voices in this field. BuildingGreen counts itself among these cooks: as third-party facilitators, we have been engaged by owners to jumpstart an integrative process or to correct misalignment for their projects. In our editorial coverage, we like to highlight the voices of outside experts without overlaying too much of our own viewpoint. But we would be remiss if we covered the integrative process without explaining our particular flavor profile and passing on the lessons learned from our consulting work.

The biggest challenge: a lack of trust

One of the best eureka moments we’ve had occurred at an integrative process workshop for a project that had not started out in a very integrative fashion. The project was well into schematic design with a large project team. Early in the day, we went around the room, asking each person to share something about the project that had them excited. In a second round, they shared something that had them concerned. One of the most honest, telling, and ultimately useful responses came from a senior designer on the project, who expressed a concern about “protecting the integrity of the design.”

That comment encapsulated the biggest challenge on many projects: the lack of trust among people in different roles. The designer didn’t trust that others on the team wouldn’t compromise the design vision as they made changes to meet budget, schedule, and other constraints.

We subsequently engaged the entire team in an exploration of the vision and concepts that drove the design, so that the entire team could gain a deeper understanding of what they were going to build and, more importantly, so the designers could see that even the contractors understood and valued the design vision.

That exercise was so successful that we’ve done versions of it on other projects. And it drove home a key integrative process concept: that trust and empathy are essential to a good collaborative process.

Intentional relationships can compensate for traditional contracts

Contractual provisions are often cited as one of the biggest barriers to a true integrative process. It doesn’t help that contracts are typically negotiated early, before the parties have established a foundation of trust. Here at BuildingGreen, we took a deep look at different contractual mechanisms for a guide we developed for the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. After all that research, here’s where we’ve landed.

There are relationships between people and relationships between companies. High-trust relationships between people can underpin an integrative process even without a contractual structure to reinforce collaboration between the companies. Most of us have seen this magic occur without in-depth involvement from lawyers. More collaborative contracts can help, of course, especially as team members change or if certain relationships sour.

Owners can lead—once their house is in order

Owners are often in the best position to set aggressive performance goals and to ask that the team develop integrated solutions. But getting an owner organization prepared to take that leadership role isn’t so simple. There are two common stumbling blocks we see.

First, setting project priorities and performance goals requires its own integrative process. A savvy owner will involve many stakeholders, including future occupants, facility operators, financial directors, and community members, and will tap the expertise of outside consultants. Ensuring that everyone is heard is key to buy-in and good decisions, but it can be a messy and intricate process. We advise owners to engage their stakeholders early to align around and clarify a set of goals even before engaging the project team. Teams should be invited to help the owner group refine these goals, but having some alignment within the owner group helps get the project off to a good start.

Second, project teams often get divergent guidance from different people within the owner organization. One recent project had a board of trustees, a building committee, and an executive committee, all of which met with the project team on a regular basis. Some owners manage this by forcing all interactions through a single point of contact, but that constrains collaboration. A better solution is to work toward alignment among all those stakeholders so the project team gets consistent guidance, regardless of who is representing the owner in a meeting.

Focusing on the “why”

Everyone, from the lead designer to the finish carpenter, will do their best work if they understand the purpose of the entire project—not just the scope of their slice of it. At a minimum, there should be a project charter, or some short way of communicating the project purpose, that can be included in RFPs, bid documents, onboarding resources for team members, or even onsite signage. Ideally, there is time dedicated at workshops and meetings to engage with purpose so everyone on the team can internalize and “own” it.

Here at BuildingGreen, we still learn something new from every project. What do you believe best fosters an integrative process?


Published January 18, 2023

Pearson, C., & Malin, N. (2023, January 18). Field Notes from BuildingGreen’s Integrative Process Facilitators. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/op-ed/field-notes-buildinggreen-s-integrative-process-facilitators

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March 28, 2023 - 11:22 am

Was this really published in 1969? 

March 28, 2023 - 11:30 am

Hah, no! Thanks for this catch Sara. This piece was published early this year, 2023. I have fixed the time stamp.