Integrators & Consultants: Developing a spirit of cooperation.
In bid contracting, few issues pique as much opinion and emotion as that of the relationship between the integrator and the consultant. I suspect that many, if not all, consultants and integrators could talk for hours about jobs gone bad where relationships between the two parties turned sour. Although no one welcomes conflict on projects, the aggressive nature of the construction industry tends to foster it. As with other parts of our lives, relationships must be nurtured constantly to keep them from deteriorating. Realizing that, there are several key steps we can take toward forming better working relationships and staying afloat when the waters get rough. Integrators & Consultants: Developing a spirit of cooperation.
On most projects, both the consultant and the integrator form relationships with the owner. Often these are indirect relationships, but nevertheless exist and are important to both parties. Typically, the integrator is contracted directly to a general contractor, and the consultant is contracted directly to the architect. Fostering these relationships is extremely important. Future work often depends on a firm’s performance on previous projects; causing a firm to look bad to the one paying its bills is a huge negative. Unfortunately, as project waters get choppy, it’s often tempting to go around a firm in hopes of muscling it to respond in a manner you want. This can cause long-term damage to relationships and should be avoided. Conversely, we should be proactive about pointing out the strengths and accomplishments of the other firm whenever it’s appropriate. The praise of one viewed as adversarial can tear down walls and build bridges.
Developing strong relationships
With today’s profit margins deflated due to an ever-growing bid field, it is critical that both the consultant and the integrator respect the other’s need to complete a project profitably. I am not saying that we need to salvage irresponsible bidding, but rather that we shouldn’t beat each other up over trivial issues and pointless requirements. There are many things in construction that can nearly eliminate a firm’s profitability. Too often, profit is viewed as a “four-letter” word. Making money is not a crime, but is the foundation of all business. Understanding and respecting this core tenant of business is paramount to developing strong working relationships with each other on projects.
Fostering a mutual respect for each other’s knowledge and experience is also essential. Whether intentional or not, as consultants there is a temptation to view integrators as somehow lower on the totem pole. This is absolutely absurd. There is another notion among some that consultants are omniscient when it comes to technology. I can assure you that neither of these is the case. Many integrators employ people with an incredible depth of industry knowledge and experience. Many times this may exceed that of the consultant.
Integrators & Consultants respecting one another
We must learn to check our egos at the door. Consultants and integrators alike put their pants on one leg at a time. No one responds well to being treated or viewed as inferior. Both parties have their strengths, and both play a vital part in the success of a project. When respect is questioned, it immediately begins to breed defensive behavior. We have to respect each other as competent members of the AV industry.
Just as it’s important for consultants to respect integrators, it is equally important for integrators to respect the consultant’s role on a project. The consultant is tasked with the project design; the integrator is tasked with the project installation. In many instances, the integrator may question the consultant’s design. Although this may be completely valid, it is critical that it be handled sensitively and respectfully. To openly question the design is, in essence, the same as questioning the consultant’s competency. That has a similar effect as the consultant questioning the integrator’s technical competency. Often, second opinions are valuable and may even provide financial savings to the owner. They simply have to be conveyed in a way that is respectful to all parties.
Working as a team
Ultimately, the integrator and consultant should strive to work as a team. When an owner sees a collaborative effort and mutual respect between the two parties, he will feel a sense of security and satisfaction that he is being serviced well. Although that team effort must never corrupt or diminish the separate accountability that both parties have to the owner, it is a powerful part of successful projects. If an owner sees fighting and bickering between the parties, the credibility of both may be questioned.
In the end, we might ask ourselves if it’s even worth it. Absolutely. If we invest the extra effort to nurture these relationships, the end result undoubtedly will be future work and a strengthened industry. The need to work together will only increase as our industry advances. It’s likely that there will always be a certain element of antagonism, but we can all do our part in minimizing it.
In summary, we must remember a few fundamental points: A project’s ultimate goal is to deliver a topnotch, quality system to an owner for the best-possible price. The road to that goal must be paved with respect for each other, in a collaborative spirit. Both parties will make mistakes throughout the course of the project, but in that collaborative spirit they should be addressed professionally. This is certainly not the first time these issues have been addressed. It has been a poignant topic of discussion for a long time. There are ongoing efforts within the industry to improve relationships between integrators and consultants. For example, ICIA’s ICAT and SILC Councils are working together continually to improve relationships by addressing concerns of both sides. Both councils are continually looking for new members with new viewpoints. NSCA is also making efforts to bring the parties together. Open dialog continues to be the most powerful tool we have at improving our industry.
Written by Tony Warner, President of Phase Shift Consulting
Originally Published in Sound & Communication