In the hard-nosed construction environment, terms like emotional intelligence can be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted. It’s not a soft skill. It’s about helping teams perform at their collective best

JCA Portraits-Jill BW

Working in construction means that – as well as technical skills - individuals need to be great at collaboration. And that’s not just working within an established team. With Joint Ventures (JV) and complex tenders, multi-disciplinary and multi-company teams often come together and are assessed as a unit. When successfully awarded a project, there’s no bedding in period. Each team has to hit the ground running. And repeat this process, time and time again.

From the outset, there is intense pressure in a construction team environment. Teams need to get to grips with the scale of the project.. Plus there is continuous pressure to work within tight budget and time constraints and drive up productivity. Obviously, this means there is a strong task focus and reliance on technical skills.

This task-orientation is often what derails collaboration. When collaborating in a team environment, team members have to rely on people they don’t know, haven’t worked with before and might even distrust. Individual team members can be so focused on getting the job done under pressure, that they forget the importance of relationships and communication required to operate a high performing team. As a result, they can be unaware of the impact that they have on other people and when others express dissatisfaction, or become uncooperative, defensiveness and sensitivity can be the outcome.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is an important skill that people need for effective collaboration. In construction it is often rare that there is time for a team to bond. Yet taking a bit of time at the outset, to understand the personalities and competencies of others, as well as the behaviours expected can prevent a team from derailing.

Understanding the team’s emotional intelligence

In most organisations – and construction is no different – development is usually focussed on the individual. This can include undertaking psychometric profiles, and onto individual training and development plans. However, personal understanding doesn’t address the team dynamic and how well the team engages together.

By focussing on interpersonal dynamics, areas for development can be uncovered. For example:

  • How much trust, tolerance and pride exists within each team?
  • How comfortable is the team in being open and honest with each other?
  • How effectively does the team support, encourage and collaborate together?
  • How effectively do they handle conflict as a team?
  • How well does the team understand each other’s roles and contributions that help drive performance?
  • To what extent do the team feel comfortable giving each other feedback and holding each other to account?

When the team understands these different aspects, they can put in place solutions that meet the particular needs of that team.

In JVs for instance, one of the team traits we’ve uncovered is that different construction firms often have competing agendas. These are not always apparent until later in the venture. This will undermine how individuals work together and can quickly turn to distrust. However, if that desire for success can be directed towards team success, then it can be a great force for accelerating performance.

In the hard-nosed construction environment, terms like Emotional Intelligence can be easily misunderstood or misinterpreted. EI is not a soft skill. It’s about helping teams perform at their collective best. And that’s what makes for a truly successful project.