Communication Crisis Hits AEC Industry Hard

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff December 21, 2006

Communication within architecture, engineering and environmental consulting firms is as bad as it’s ever been, according to Newton, Mass.-based Morrissey Goodale LLC, a management consulting firm to the design and environmental industry.

“Communication has always been a struggle for professionals in the A/E/C industry,” says Mark Goodale, a principal with the firm. “But due to heavy workloads and staffing shortages, we’re seeing what communication there was rapidly deteriorating at and between all levels within firms. The problem is impacting these companies in profound ways, especially in terms of quality of deliverables and morale.”

Goodale urges companies to tackle the problem head-on and offers the following advice:

Build trust. Employees don’t always have time to learn each other’s personality traits, skills and interests, making it difficult for them to succeed as a group. Building trust can be achieved by assessing individual employee strengths and administering personality type indicators to break down misconceptions.

“While this takes time up front, it will prove invaluable later on, because it builds a team with complementary skills” says Goodale.

Encourage healthy conflict. Conflict is uncomfortable, especially for architects and engineers, who typically tend to shy away from it. “Team members must all be encouraged to speak their minds without fearing reprisal,” Goodale says. “Without some level of conflict, there is no buy-in from the individual members and ultimately no accountability.”

Master the skill of making and keeping reliable promises. “Any meaningful communication between two people involves a request for action, especially in project-driven firms like A/E and environmental companies,” says Goodale. “Mastering the skill of communicating clear conditions of satisfaction and inviting negotiation from the employee translates into efficiency and client value.”

Goodale believes that the best way to address communication challenges is by making sure that teammates know each other better and talk and listen on a daily basis. “The soft issues are becoming the hard issues in this industry,” he says. “And not talking and not listening are among the biggest problems.”

The firm’s website is at .