The Value of Collaboration in Construction: How Do You Build a Trusted Partnership? 

value of construction collaboration

“Working with a trusted partner just makes your life easier. Who doesn’t want that?”  – Main contractor 

Relationships can make or break a construction project. That was the resounding verdict of our recent research, exploring how collaboration – particularly during preconstruction – determines success for owners, main contractors and subcontractors alike. 

The best partnerships have always been based on trust, often built over years of working together. One of the main contractors who participated in the research claimed, “Having a good relationship with subcontractors means you can trust them to do a good job and you have more peace of mind all round.” 

But COVID-19 has disrupted collaboration in construction, leaving businesses under pressure to form new relationships. According to our findings, 30% of owners, 34% of main contractors and 26% of subcontractors say that collaborators or vendors they work with have gone out of business as a result of the pandemic. Equally, many organisations have diversified into new areas of construction to counter the impact of COVID-19 – and as a result need to find new partners.  

Strong relationships will be critical for firms to overcome their current challenges and realise the opportunities of an evolving construction industry. But what’s the best way to build and maintain a trusted partnership? Here are the three qualities that matter to owners, main contractors and subcontractors most – and an overview of how technology can help. 

For more insight into collaboration in construction, watch our recent webinar, Connecting the dots in construction to succeed in the COVID-19 era 

1. Reliability is more valuable than trust 

Reliability is one of the most important components of a trusted partnership. For owners and main contractors, that means working with businesses that will deliver on time and on budget. It’s also about the standard of the work being delivered; owners point to quality execution of the project as their second biggest priority in a partnership (87%).  

In fact, reliability is so important that over a third of owners (38%) and a quarter of main contractors (23%) say that it matters more than cost, when it comes to subcontractors.   

value of collaboration in construction graph

Contractors also value dependable clients, particularly when it comes to payment. Around half of main contractors (53%) and subcontractors (43%) are concerned that owners might fail to hold up their financial agreements. Reliable payment is a critical part of building trust, particularly because of how damaging late payments and disputes about the completion of work can be to contractors.  

Of course, every business is responsible for meeting its own obligations in construction. But it’s also true that processes in the preconstruction phase can impact how easy – or difficult – it is for businesses to collaborate. For example, we found that many owners, main contractors and subcontractors complain that briefs “aren’t clear enough” or “are often misunderstood,” leading to issues down the line. Equally, errors during costing and scheduling can lead to conflict between businesses later on. 

Setting up projects in the right way helps to ensure that everyone knows what’s expected of them – and is able to deliver. Using digital preconstruction tools to support with estimation, scheduling and bid management can help to refine the parameters of the project – setting collaborators up for success later on. Using on-site technology to track the completion of work can also help businesses to avoid contractual disputes later, supporting the creation of long-term, trusted relationships

2. Communication counts – especially when things go wrong 

Another critical element of a trusted partnership is communication. Subcontractors say that regular updates during the project are the attribute most likely to make them want to work with a partner again in the future (31%). Owners also value timely communications throughout the project, and the uncertainties thrown up by COVID-19 have made this even more important. 

It’s not only while work is being undertaken; handovers are an important way for contractors to share all of the information needed to complete the build and support future facilities management. In fact, a high-quality handover is the most valuable attribute in a collaborator, according to main contractors (46%). 

Technology can help to improve communication throughout the build. Cloud-based digital platforms make it easier to share key information across organisations and between the site and the office. These tools support the creation of a thorough, accurate handover at the end of each project – and ensure that all snags are tracked and resolved. 

Open communication is perhaps even more important when things go wrong. A third of main contractors (35%) and a quarter of subcontractors (25%) say that transparency is the quality most likely to make them work with a collaborator again. 

Cloud-based construction platforms can help to create a culture of transparency, by providing real time, accessible information throughout a build. Collaborators can see issues as they arise rather than learning about them later on. As a result, businesses can work to address problems together as early as possible, building trust and improving outcomes. 

3. A culture of genuine partnership pays off 

Collaboration in construction can be hindered because businesses are worried about exposing themselves to risk on the project. Notably, a significant proportion of owners (21%), main contractors (22%) and subcontractors (35%) each believe that their organisation takes on more risk than their collaborators on each project. This can understandably lead to behaviour that’s defensive, rather than productive, even limiting the attainment of the overall project objectives.  

However, there’s a desire to move to a more genuine model of partnership on construction projects, particularly from contractors themselves. In fact, subcontractors point to shared ownership of project objectives as one of the qualities that they most value in collaborators (26%).  

Shifting to a culture where businesses have a greater stake in the overall objectives of a project – and are more closely collaborative – will improve not only the relationships between businesses but the overall success of the work. Technology can support this process, by empowering every organisation involved in a project with the information and updates needed, to keep them moving towards the same goals. 

Building trust from the outset 

Working with someone you know can be very valuable in construction. But following the disruption caused by COVID-19, it’s also important to be able to find new partners you can trust – and start the relationship off on the right foot. 

Digital construction networks can help owners and main contractors to find qualified subcontractors that match their needs. It’s also possible to view data on businesses’ historical performance and financial stability, to collaborate with confidence. And by using preconstruction tools to support decision making like scheduling and estimating, organisations can create the best conditions for successful partnerships from the beginning. 

Construction has always been a relationships business. That means that if you strengthen your partnerships, you also strengthen your performance and deliver the improved outcomes that are in everyone’s interests. With a culture of trusted collaboration – and the tools to support it – businesses can overcome current challenges and seize new opportunities. 

Watch my discussion with Amanda Clack of CBRE, Justin Sullivan of the Construction Industry Council and Duncan Yarroll from Mace, in our recent webinar: Connecting the dots in construction to succeed in the COVID-19 era

Mike Pettinella

EMEA Director, Autodesk Construction Solutions