Collaboration can range from a casual comment over the phone or a napkin sketch that triggers new ideas to a formal work session that includes well-choreographed brainstorming toward creation of various alternative solutions to vexing problems. Scott Simpson, principal and senior director at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, office of KlingStubbins, elaborates: “Collaboration is an attitude more than a process. Participants assume that each member of the team has something valuable to offer, and that by using many brains synergistically rather than working in ‘silos,’ overall outcomes will be dramatically improved. In a collaborative effort, it is understood that different points of view add richness and depth to the project, but this means that ego must take a back seat.” The great caveat, of course, is that the work is indeed amenable to a team approach and that an individual could not better or more efficiently execute it. It must be recognized that some challenges are best met by one good performer.
A productive, collaborative work session requires talented people who are empowered to make decisions on behalf of their firms and who are unafraid to push disciplinary boundaries. Recounting one such session, David Altenhofen, AIA, technical design principal at RMJM Hillier, comments that each member must feel free to present ideas even if they are out of the participant’s area of expertise; for example, when a structural engineer makes aesthetic suggestions, or when the builder makes suggestions regarding plumbing. Integrated designs cannot evolve successfully without the participation of all relevant disciplines.