Why Most of Your Projects Suck and How to Un-Suck Them

July 26, 2017

Tracey Kidder said, “Building is the quintessential act of civilization.”  Think about it.  If three people washed up on a deserted island, the first thing they would do is collaboratively build a shelter.  Unless, of course, the three people were an architect, owner’s rep, and contractor.  Then, they would have to wait for two lawyers to wash up on the beach so that they could proceed with the project.

There is a project that I read about recently where the parties involved hate each other. I don’t say that lightly.  You can tell from their comments that they truly loathe and despise each other.  Here is a link to the ENR article titled  A Hospital Job Dispute Reaches Fever Pitch:


How did this project get to this point?  Could the parties involved have seen this coming?  How did they begin the project, and more importantly, what can you do on your projects to avoid such a fate? There is a link to a white paper and other resources at the end of this blog, but here is a recap:

Step 1: Get as many people involved in the process as soon as possible from owners to facilities folks to end users designers to contractors to trade partners to materials vendors. Get them in a big room.  Build a sense of team and trust and collaboration.  Note:  This cannot be done in a day.  One day “partnering” sessions are a waste of everyone’s time and energy. Lean, IPD, ILPD Design-Build, and other collaborative project delivery methods are perfect for having a framework to achieve this.  Forget IPD-ish.  Just do it!

Step 2:  Make this focus on team, relationships and trust ongoing.  Every meeting should start with the team stuff.  Bring folks in to reinforce team and collaboration and communication and trust throughout the entire project from inception to demolition.

Step 3:  Give everyone tools in order for them to achieve their peak level of mental, physical, and emotional performance.  Think about it.  We throw people in a big pot that has high stakes and crushing stress without any tools and expect them to perform like a well-oiled machine. This is ludicrous.  And they don’t get enough sleep, eat crappy food, and have really poor health habits during a demanding project.  As part of your ongoing team building, have discussions about stress and nutrition and sleep and other things that will inhibit performance.  Give them the tools they need to succeed.  It also creates a sense of connection and team because everyone is looking out for each other and their well-being.

If you want more free information and resources, download my white paper that includes two of my bestselling books and another white paper on how to build the people before you build the project.  It will give you the tools you need to make your next project a huge success!  Click here to download the white paper.  

And if you want even more resources on emotional intelligence and all of the critical people skills your folks need to succeed, click here  for information on our online courses called The Total Leadership Library.

The Problems with Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and How to Overcome Them

June 18, 2015

Dude x 9 the builders at puzzle construction site.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” ― Helen Keller



The big buzz phrase in the construction industry is Integrated Project Delivery or IPD.  Disney has a concept called ILPD or Integrated Lean Project Delivery.  This uses not only a collaborative approach to projects, but also uses the Last Planner System and Lean concepts to eliminate waste, focus on adding value, and continuously improving.  Everyone on the project signs an integrated form of agreement that commits to shared risk and reward and cooperation throughout the project.

This is a very good concept that is getting a lot of attention.  There are incredible success stories and stories of unmitigated disasters that have used the IPD model.  So what is the secret sauce?  What contributes to success as opposed to failure?  My gut feeling is that the people dimension of this process is a critical factor to its success.  Take a look at the typical emotional profile for a large group of folks (over 500) who manage the construction process:

average EQ for third edition-graph only


As you can see, the relatively high scores are self-regard, independence, assertiveness, stress tolerance, and reality testing (black/white thinkers).  The relatively low scores are impulse control, flexibility, emotional self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, and social responsibility (the ability to work in groups and teams).  This is a bell curve distribution, so 100 is the mean.  Let’s put it this way.  This group of construction managers couldn’t get any of the interpersonal skills to the mean.  That means that all of the interpersonal skills are BELOW AVERAGE!

This does not bode well for collaborative project delivery methods.  We must address these emotional competencies first.  Then, we must cultivate the relationships and create trust.  Then, and only then, can we properly plan the project.  We have a program called Beyond Partnering.  We developed it because we found that our leadership programs created a lot of trust and close relationships that increased the effectiveness of project teams.  So we do our normal program spread out over time, we just do it in the context of a project.  The tag line for Beyond Partnering is “You have to build the people before you build the project.”  If you would like more information on this approach, email me and I will send you our Beyond Partnering outline.

How to Improve Your Relationships by Increasing Your Oxytocin

January 23, 2015

Oxytocin is an amazing hormone.  It is called the “cuddle” hormone and is secreted by mothers and babies when mothers are breastfeeding.  It is also released during orgasm and when we have basic human contact with others.  From handshakes to pats on the back to massage, that human touch starts the production of oxytocin.  It gives us that feeling of warmth and connection.  We naturally mirror the emotions of the person sitting across from us.  Mirror neurons in our brains fire without any conscious thought.  Emotions are, indeed, contagious from a  physiological point of view.  Try this experiment.  Get a partner and try not to show any emotion.  Then ask them to put a great big, genuine smile on their face.  What happens? Your mirror neurons kick in and you WANT to smile.  It’s involuntary and automatic.  Can you look at the following photo and not smile?

Think of the power of that connection and what you can do to affect it during your next encounter with another human being.

There was a study done where men sorted pictures of angry faces.  Normally this triggers a response in the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain.  These negative faces trigger a negative emotional response.  But they took half the men and had them inhale oxytocin.  The other half  inhaled a placebo.  The men who inhaled the oxytocin showed far less activity in the amygdala and far less negative emotions.

So, short of breastfeeding, how do we boost our own levels of oxytocin? There are no supplements or foods that naturally boost this amazing hormone.  But there are some things we can do.

1.  Smile.  Smiling not only releases lots of good hormones in your body, including oxytocin, it will excite the mirror neurons of the person sitting across from you.  They will be much more likely to “catch” your emotion that you are sending them.

2.  Make an emotional connection.  Ask the person how they are truly feeling.  Try to empathize with their situation.  Show real concern.  Remember, treat everyone kindly because we are all fighting epic battles.  This concern for another human being starts the oxytocin pumping.

3.  Reach out and touch someone.  What do they do every two hours to premature babies?  They hold them and feed them.  Humans need human touch.  One story from a Romanian orphanage tells of a child that survived in a room full of kids because he was near the door.  As the attendant turned out the light and shut the door, she touched the kid on her way out.  He was the only one that made it out alive and owes his life to human touch.  So look for appropriate ways to impart touch to someone else.  Ken Blanchard talks about the literal pat on the back.  Take every opportunity to give a good, warm, open, inviting handshake (and it won’t hurt to smile while you do it).  Hugs are also great things and I find myself hugging more, even in business settings.

4.  Send love.  I know this sounds a little esoteric, but emotions create energy and that energy will affect the outcome of any situation. So if you put yourself in a good emotional state of love or even a state of positive thinking, the people across from you will pick up on that energy and it will affect them and the outcome.  I have found that this works even with the most hard boiled people and the most contentious situations.

If you try these ways to increase oxytocin and improve your relationships, you will find that people will be much more receptive and open.  I would love to hear about your experiments with this approach.  Post here or let me know via email.


Construction Problems: It May Be a Hormonal Issue

December 10, 2014




Paul Zak is a researcher who studies oxytocin, also known as the connection hormone or the love hormone.  Oxytocin is secreted by nursing mothers and babies and also during sex.  It connects us.  When we are under the effects of oxytocin, we feel a lot of trust, closeness, and cooperation.  This is necessary for our survival.  When Paul Zak gave oxytocin to research subjects, their trust levels went up.

He also studied the opposite of oxytocin, which is testosterone.  Testosterone is the mistrust hormone, the selfish hormone, the uncooperative hormone.  Keep in mind that men have ten times the testosterone as women.  Also, under times of stress, testosterone goes up and oxytocin goes down.  Can you think of a male dominated industry that is highly stressful?  Maybe construction?

So could all of this lack of cooperation and adversarial relationships in the construction industry be due to too much testosterone and not enough oxytocin?  Perhaps.  And Paul Zak has a solution to this problem, which has earned him the nickname “Doctor Love”. He said to increase oxytocin, he recommends at least eight hugs per day.

When I spoke recently at the National COAA (Construction Owner’s Association of America), I told them about this research and Paul Zak’s solution.  I also told them that I looked forward to the day when we had owner mandated hugs on all projects.

After my speech, the person who introduced me gave me a big hug.  Then another guy gave me a hug.  People were hugging all over the place.  One guy would give me his hug count every time he saw me during the conference.

Could it be that simple?  Give it a try and see what happens.


A Waitress and a Lesson in Gratitude

November 29, 2014

waitressI published this previously, but wanted to post it again during Thanksgiving week:

I was in a small town in North Carolina.  I had taken a week to write up in the mountains, and a good friend of mine kindly gave me his luxurious cabin just for that purpose.  I lost an entire day of writing due to a Mac freeze up, so I decided to get out of the cabin and enter the small town of Sparta for a meal.  I pulled into the place that was the most packed.  It was a small diner.  I sat down with the regulars and decided what to order.  The waitress was very friendly and nice.  She asked me how I was and took my order.  I asked her how she was doing.  She said she was fine.  Then, she waited on the couple behind me, who appeared to be regulars.  When they asked about how she was, she told them that her dad was in the hospital recovering from triple bypass surgery.  She went to the hospital yesterday to see her dad and be there for the surgery.  She also told them about her dad’s initial visit to the hospital when he was having chest pains and shortness of breath.  She said that when they asked him what he was doing there, he told them that he just wanted a flu shot.  They laughed.  They actually laughed.  She told the couple that he had such blockages in his arteries that they scheduled him for surgery immediately.

I kept eavesdropping.  The surgery went well and her dad was in the ICU recovering.  They may be able to move him into a room by tomorrow.  The couple told her that it must be hard to be at work while her dad is in the hospital.  She told them that it was very hard because she is such a “daddy’s girl”, and she was really worried about him.  But she added that the bills didn’t stop just because her dad had triple bypass.  She had to work.  She had no choice.

It made me think really hard about my circumstances.  I think I’m the luckiest human being on the face of this earth.  If my mom was in the hospital, I could take off as much as I wanted to be able to be with her.  Don’t get me wrong. Having my own business has its challenges.  I remember a time when I borrowed $80,000 against the house to be able to stay in business.  Those were scary times.  But lately, the blessings have been almost too much.  Work is booming and there are opportunities for more work in the future.  Finances are looking good and I don’t have to worry so much any more.  I wanted to leave her a big tip, but I didn’t want to come across as a creepy old man.  So I left a tip on the table of the couple behind me.

So no matter what is going on in your life, I encourage you to stop and take inventory.  Count your blessings and see where you are.  Reach out to those who are struggling and help them if you are able.  We have to take care of each other.  If you would like to share your story of gratitude or helping someone else, I would love to hear it.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

August 6, 2013

dont worry be happyI know.  I know.  It’s trite.  It’s a silly song.  But lately, this has been weighing on me.  Everything in my life is telling me to have more fun, to be lighter, to not take things so seriously.  And it’s like a weight has been lifted off of me.

One interesting thing about this saying.  It was first coined by a spiritual leader, the Avatar Meher Baba.  So this wasn’t just a bumper sticker.  This was intended to be serious spiritual guidance.  This is the cornerstone of a good life.  This is fundamental to so many things.  You are what you believe.  What do you want to be?

I was eating at Waffle House this morning and was thinking about the burdens of owning your own business, the pressures, the dilemmas, worrying about the future.

And then I started noticing the folks working there.  They had names like  Scrappy and Yoyo and Pickles, and they were having a blast, joking with each other, laughing, telling stories, and playing games.  Here are folks not being paid an awful lot for a very difficult job, and they are happy.  It made me think long and hard about my difficulties, which are almost non-existent.  I am so lucky and so blessed.  So, from this moment forward, I vow to have more fun.  To not worry and be happy as much as possible.

It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is a very worthwhile thing to do.  There are five easy steps to this “don’t worry, be happy” attitude:

1.  Wake up every morning focusing on your blessings, not on the problems of the day.

2.  Email a partner three things you are grateful for every single day.  Start a gratitude list.

3.  Throughout your day ask, “What if . . . ?”  What if you got that promotion? What if your health report was positive?  What if your child came back to you like the prodigal son?  What if you lived your dreams?

4.  Adopt a “Yes, and . . . ” attitude.  Get rid of the “yes, buts”.  Always add something positive.  What didn’t work before may just work now with the right attitude.

5.  Go to bed each night counting blessings.

So give it a shot.  You may be going through some rough stuff right now.  You can’t control many of those things in your life, but you have 100% control over how you react to them.  Good luck!

A Lesson in Empathy

July 2, 2013

empathy 1Empathy is one of the emotional competencies we teach. In the construction industry, many contractors are maligned for not having empathy.  And it is true that it is not our best thing.  Empathy is usually one of the lower scores for the people with which we work.  But I don’t think the folks in the industry get enough credit.  There is no project on this planet that is more complicated and fraught with pitfalls as a construction project.  Think of how many parts and pieces there are.  Think of how many people are involved in the process from the idea in the owner’s head through the end of the life of the building.  The complexities are astronomical.  It amazes me that we get anything built.

But we do.  We build a lot of projects and help make the world a better place.  We build the infrastructure and the schools and the hospitals and the sports and entertainment venues that make our lives better.  And we do it collaboratively.  Sometimes this process gets bogged down.  Sometimes we forget that we are only humans trying to tackle these gargantuan tasks.  But we push through and we get it done.  I applaud the folks in the construction industry, which is by far, the most collaborative industry on the planet.

Can we do better?  Yes, we can.  Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be in business.  But let’s build on the successes of collaboration and use our empathy to understand the other stakeholders and make the project work. I have a great empathy exercise that I recommend often.  Go home, turn of the television and sit down with each member of your family.  Then ask them to tell you about their day.  And all you can do is listen.  You can’t offer advice.  You can’t solve any of tehir problems.  You can’t tell them what they should have done.  All do is try to determine how they felt during their day.  And that’s all you can say to them.  That must have made you angry or upset or sad or frustrated or happy.  Another great empathy lesson is illustrated in this video from The Cleveland Hospital.  Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDDWvj_q-o8