BIM bytes: The key to building a virtual team

Some, including me, have expounded the theory that BIM and collaborative working are two sides of the same coin. But can a virtual “team” truly work collaboratively?

The contributors to a BIM model will need to work consistently, and to the same requirements, in order to efficiently and effectively produce the model. Equally, the team as a whole will need to work together in order to resolve any issues that arise.

Working as part of any team can succeed or fail on the basis of the team’s behaviours. To a large extent, the point of intelligent construction contracting is to encourage those behaviours in the team that are most likely to assist the project and lead to successful outcomes.

Most significant for collaborative working is the setting of shared and consistent objectives. In part, that may mean a clear set of Employer’s Information Requirements or, at the furthest extreme, open and consistent service schedules and contractual terms.

This does not necessarily mean each team member needs to be rewarded for success and liable for failure in the same way, but such open consistency does foster the most difficult ingredient to get hold of for collaborative working: trust.

Consistent contractual terms and requirements do at least mean that team members can clearly understand each other’s basic objectives and believe that they are being treated fairly as part of the team. Trust is also built by clear and open communication.

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There is therefore a need to have the clear communication protocols. However, the permanent record of electronic communication does to an extent present a bar to open communication: if people would like to discuss a potential problem, having such discussions permanently recorded is not attractive.

The issue becomes more complex at BIM level 3 when, theoretically, interaction can become entirely virtual. While we accept that services can be provided virtually to a consistent standard and accept that remote working and virtual teams are a good way to access resources and work more efficiently, is it possible for virtual teams to build the trust that is required to work collaboratively?

My opinion is that the teams cannot exist entirely virtually and that teamwork requires at least some face-to-face human interaction – at least an early meeting in a project to establish some trust among the team. During the project, this is using the most effective tools for communication, with a clear communication protocol.

Ultimately, these “soft” objectives to a collaborative team are difficult to establish so all rely on the leadership of a team or a project recognising that they are valuable and worthy of effort and expenditure to establish.

Assad Maqbool is a partner at Trowers & Hamlins specialising in projects and construction

Teams cannot exist entirely virtually and that teamwork requires at least some face-to-face human interaction – at least an early meeting in a project to establish some trust among the team– Assad Maqbool, Trowers & Hamlins

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  1. Some excellent points here: in particular, trust is key!
    Working on instilling collaborative working (non-BIM) en route to BS11000, the big stumbling-block has been wariness about sharing information – and not just between organisations, within them too. Face-to-face relationships have proved the only way to break down barriers and get information flowing.
    And having experienced the ‘chilling effect’ of knowing everything written down could be disclosed under Freedom of Information rules, I can testify to the need for space to think, to argue for and against ideas and to come up with crazy solutions which later prove to be right.
    But most, humans are social animals, and we just don’t think of people we’ve never met, only viewed, as team-mates.

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