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Project Team Chemistry: 3 Ways to Get it Right from the Beginning

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Throughout my 17 years in the AEC industry, I’ve found that team chemistry created within Owner/Architect/Construction Manager project teams varies from project to project. In recent parallel experiences, one project team experience seemed to be draining and labored, while another similar project was enjoyable, effortless and everything ‘clicked.’ So…what’s the difference? Through researching what makes an effective team, the number one thing I found was that adaptability is crucial to create and maintain harmony throughout a team. Additionally, laying down ground rules to establish an end goal with a vision is extremely important and creates alignment with all team members around the vision. Chemistry within a team is created by respecting and engaging with different ideas and styles, no matter your experience.

What creates team chemistry, how can you foster it and what are the predictors of whether the project will have great project team chemistry? The best time to begin creating effective chemistry with many stakeholders is at the very beginning of the project. Often my projects take two to three years for completion and getting it ‘right’ at the beginning can positively impact team chemistry over the lifetime of the project. Below outlines the top three team chemistry catalysts I believe to be impactful for an AEC project team:

1. Understand (and Buy Into) the Common End Goal

What is the larger end goal and vision for the project? Determine the end goal by listening to what the client’s needs and wants are and then make decisions throughout the project based upon that common end goal. Write it down and then talk about it again and again and again so everyone is on the same page. There are multiple players on every project team – Owner, Architect, Construction Manager, Contractor, Engineers, etc. ­– and chemistry is cultivated when everyone on the project strives to achieve this common goal. This can be particularly important if team players change throughout the design and/or construction process and then the common end goals need to be revisited for alignment.

What does this mean?

  • Navigate future questions and possible issues through the lens of what brought your team together and the larger end goal.
  • Keep in mind what is in the best interest of the Owner.
  • Team players must believe in and commit to the Owner’s vision and end goals. If you or certain team members don’t buy in or understand, ask questions until you do.

2. Set Team Expectations

Understand that there are often multiple voices who have different expectations regarding the process and collaborating with those voices is critical to a successful project. Those managing the teams must recognize the significant differences between personalities and that issues and tensions result from unheard ideas. Collaborating and brainstorming can become intense and chaotic but the process becomes much easier when communication and problem solving expectations are set at the beginning. 

What does this mean?

  • Proactively address your team chemistry; if the team chemistry seems off at any point, set up a meeting to address it.
  • Collaboratively create a problem-solving guideline for all project team members to adhere to
  • Listen to all ideas from everyone sitting at the table.
  • According to the Harvard Business Review, “Teams with higher cognitive diversity performed better in brainstorming sessions. Groups that performed well, treated mistakes with curiosity and shared responsibility.” 

3. Have Fun!

It’s important to get to know your team. Many times, it is the small touches that can make your day or someone on your team’s day. If I’m spending years with a project team, I would prefer (like most people) that we are having fun while moving forward with the process. There will be bumps along the road. And it’s easier to weather those bumps when you like the people you are road tripping with.

What does this mean?

  • Get to know your team on a personal level; connecting through hobbies or likenesses will help to support a growing relationship.
  • Acknowledge team chemistry; talk about how great it is to work together and if things are not clicking, acknowledge that too.
  • Have meaningful discussions to improve communication among teams. Topics that team members are interested in will drive participation and foster better communication.
  • Enjoy a meal or a drink together – don’t let a team get hangry. People make better decisions when they are not hungry and this can provide a casual time for team members to bond and get to know each other.

There are many times when we cannot hand-pick our teams…but you can still achieve a compatible, successful team by respecting, supporting and communicating with all team members to be sure that everything ‘clicks’ and build team chemistry.



Teresa M Wadzinski, RA, CDT, LEED BD+C
Learning Environments Studio Director : Principal

Teresa, is the Learning Environments Studio Director and Principal with Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA). Teresa's passion is designing education spaces that inspires all types of learners and educators to reach their full potential.

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