Partnering is a continuous process that changes the age-old philosophy that design and construction projects have to be situations where one party succeeds at the expense of another. Partnering is a management process in which all parties to a project voluntarily commit at the outset  to adopt a cooperative, team-based approach to project execution and problem resolution to avoid or minimize disputes. Partnering relationships are established in an initial workshop and then reinforced throughout the life of the project.   Constant reinforcement and monitoring is the key to partnering and project success, because it not only adds to, but multiplies the value of the initial workshop as illustrated below:

Project Success = Initial Workshop X Ongoing Partnering Reinforcement

So What Does Partnering Reinforcement Look Like? 

Here are some barriers to successful partnering commonly encountered during a project and some practical tips to overcome them that will  reinforce partnering.

Barrier – Some team members are giving lip service to partnering or are not meeting expectations or commitments.

Tip – Create a management level team not involved day-to-day on the project from each partnering organization that meets monthly to address ongoing unresolved issues or escalating issues. These management team members each check in with their project teams to understand any issues prior to meeting, then work through the issues and come to solutions. They tend to be able to come to collective agreement because they have more objectivity and distance from the issues.  Example:  One Management Team stepped in on an ongoing quality of work issue when there was a lot of finger pointing between all partners at the project level. After examining all the possible causes; project procedures,  personality conflicts, material defects, etc., from all perspectives, the  Management Team agreed on a plan that included replacing some key personnel and increasing accountability in procedures. This sent a clear joint message of partnering reinforcement to the  project team.

Barrier – No regular, periodic team review of how well each part of the partnering agreement is working.

Tip – Recognize individual and collaborative partnering efforts as well as making course correction adjustments at progress meetings. It is often good for each partner to recognize a specific effort of one of the other partners since the previous meeting.  Example:  One Owner’s Rep acknowledged the Contractor’s Superintendent for bringing a potential equipment delivery delay to their attention so that operating alternatives could be determined together, rather than hoping it wouldn’t happen so no bad news had to be delivered.

Barrier – Attitudes of partnering and joint collaboration and open communication deteriorate over time as the project intensifies and people become more focused on day-to-day issues.

Tip –  Schedule periodic facilitated half-day reinforcement workshops away from the project site to take people away from the day-to-day stress and focus  on the original partnering common goals. Then take the time to acknowledge and reinforce  which partnering efforts are working well, adjust the ones that are not, and establish new ones where appropriate.  Example:  A project team scheduled a reinforcement workshop every 6 months over a 3 year contract, but ended up adjusting the schedule to hold the workshops before critical milestones and the addition of new major subcontractors so issues related to milestones and new personnel could also be discussed during the workshops.

Barrier – No measure of partnering success for the project.

Tip – Take the partnering goals established in the initial workshop and create an evaluation survey that can be administered to all team members periodically throughout the project, especially before a follow-up reinforcement workshop. Track the trend in ratings on each goal and acknowledge the successes and make adjustments in actions to raise the lower ratings. Since the goals usually include financial, procedural, schedule and relationship areas, there will be measurable results and trends from the surveys for discussion and reporting versus focusing on just the last thing each team member remembered happening on the project.  Example:  One project team used the survey results and trends in a lessons learned exercise with the team members at the end of the first phase on a multi-phase project to make improvements for the next phase of the project.

For an expanded discussion on this topic go to   for your copy of  “Continuous Partnering Helps Ensure Project Success” by Anne Smith and Gordon Culp.

What have been your experiences with partnering on your projects? Was it successful or not? Why?