3 Common Communication Problems in Architecture Firms and How to Fix Them
Communication in architecture is overwhelmingly associated with the visual: models, drawings, and renderings.
While this is neither surprising nor unusual given the inherent physical quality of architecture, architects would also do well to recognize that perfecting non-visual communication is crucial for a productive architectural practice.
Communication serves to relay an idea, thought or news from one person or group to another, so when the lines of communication fail, so do the conveyance of that concept, resulting in a lack of clarity.
In the realm of an architecture office, communication is commonly sub-optimized within project teams, between executive and staff architects, and between the architect and client. Discussed below are three major communication problems that cover each of these relationships and suggestions for how to mitigate them:
Internal Project Team Communication
When collaborating with colleagues within an architecture practice, it is common for multiple members of the project team to be working on the same project files throughout the project duration, especially the AutoCAD files.
While this may simplify file management in general when there are fewer files to maintain, file sharing can present a fair share of complications because not everybody automatically works within a file in the same way. For example, not all members of the team may assign linework to the same layers, dimension consistently or document as thoroughly as another team member.
“You cannot put a price tag on how important internal communication is.”
Additionally, when architectural team members don’t communicate about their process or progress when working on the same project file, it may not be apparent what work has already been completed, and others may not understand how their colleague approached a task.
This makes it difficult to track production and also wastes time, as project team members then must navigate within the drawing file themselves to see what changes or updates have been made and whether they were made accurately; a team member may even end up re-doing or duplicating work that has already been done.
Poor internal communication with regard to file usage results in inconsistency, confusion, decreased efficiency, and frustration. To prevent or resolve these issues, each architectural project team in coordination with the architectural executive should intentionally take time at the beginning of a project (and episodically throughout) to discuss and outline specific standards for project file usage. The entire project team should also describe the protocols for daily reporting among colleagues and actively commit to adhering to them.
Executive Management to Team Communication
A communication issue common in boutique and larger architecture firms alike is that of competing and sometimes contradictory design ideas and directives.
Though a goal of most architectural practices is to have a cohesive vision when it comes to design, in reality not every company’s design principals share a unified opinion.
Whether discrepancies in design opinions occur at a small or large scale, project teams can get caught in the middle of the resulting conceptual tug-of-war. The team may have precisely created the design documents in response to a request by one design principal and a second design principal may have given a different idea because of his dissatisfaction with the resulting work – and perhaps have asked for a rework.
“The building industry has a poor reputation for the manner in which its individuals communicate with one another.”
Another similar scenario is when multiple design principals provide inputs during a discussion with the project team about the design or a particular assignment without coming to a clear resolution, yet expecting that the project team understands which inputs to be implemented.
It can be physically and emotionally exhausting for both executives and the project teams if this dichotomy in communication perpetuates, and it also undermines the productivity of the architecture office.
Setting a clear design direction for architectural projects and establishing an office hierarchy structure are paramount to setting up for success. Executive management can create this clarity in their practice and for their project teams by identifying one design executive per project that the team will look for direction and answers. That one design executive should be entrusted to lead the team and company either by his or her vision or by upholding the previously-agreed-upon collective vision of all of the design executives.
Architect to Client Communication
Clients are the essential ingredient for implementing architectural ideas, so it’s natural for architects to want to cater to their customers’ wishes in every way imaginable.
However, in communicating with clients, architects do not always accurately guide their clients’ expectations, and often tend to overpromise. This could be with regard to the entirety of the architectural project or just particular aspects, most commonly schedule, budget, materials or furnishings.
As a result, clients can become frustrated with the progress of the project if it does not correspond with expectations, and discouraged by the performance of the company, which is detrimental to future business. Distrust can develop between the client and the architectural company, turning the relationship sour. In turn, the architectural team grows frazzled under pressure to maintain the client relationship and deliver on the commitment made.
“A weak or eroded sense of trust can harm your reputation, cost you future business, and even drive clients toward litigation.”
Therefore, it is essential to the success of the architect-client relationship for architects to communicate the realistic expectations based on the capability of the architectural office and what is involved in carrying out the client’s project.
This necessitates that architects are aware of the realities of practice to begin with, so paying attention to the performance of one’s company is critical.
Finding a balance between the client’s perception and ideals and the actuality of their project is a delicate but necessary responsibility of the architect, and is vital to the success of the project, business, and the company-customer relationship.