The 10 Ingredients for Creating a Collaborative Culture at Your Architecture Firm

April 30, 2014 4 min read

Editor's Note: Mark R. LePage is not only a successful architect, but also the brain behind Entrepreneur Architect, a website full of genuine, effective, business-changing advice on how to run a profitable architecture business. 

 

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 Photo by Daniel Hollister - CC License

It’s the difference between a room full of zombie workers and a team of enthusiastic energetic employees. A firm’s culture is the life blood of any organization. A successful culture does not happen all by itself though. It must be encouraged and cultivated.

In a firm of one or two, a positive culture may be managed simply by keeping lines of communication open and staying actively enthusiastic for the work being done. As a firm grows, a more structured system of guidelines may be developed to ensure that the culture develops into a supportive, energetic environment; a place where enthusiastic leaders and staff eagerly work together to create amazing works of architecture.

As part of the business plan for my small residential architecture firm, Fivecat Studio, we developed a section called Culture Statement, which includes 10 ingredients for creating a collaborative environment of enthusiasm and encouragement. We use the statement as our guide when we interact with fellow team members, vendors or employees. When critical decisions need to be made for the firm or in the development of a project, these 10 reminders allow us to make the right move every time and continue to love what we do.

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1. Kindness
Be nice! is one of my mantras. In any and every situation, taking the "high road" and doing the right thing, even when it is difficult to do so, will lead you to a better place. This is a lesson I learned early in my life when bullies set their sights on the tall shy kid. I’d “kill ‘em with kindness” and soon they’d be looking to be friends or move on to more reactive targets. In my firm, if you can’t be nice, you can’t work with me and as I get older and my firm’s reputation strengthens, I’ve even begun to extend this rule to clients. I have developed internal filters and try only to work with nice people, which results in happier relationships, less stress and much better design. Be nice…even when others are not.

2. Honesty
Mistakes only compound when you try to hide them. As architects, we make thousands of decisions and specify hundreds of products and materials for each project. It is impossible to get it all right every time. A mistake is bound to happen and when it does, be honest. Accept the responsibility and deal with the consequences. In my experience, the sooner you own the mistake and take responsibility for fixing the error, the greater respect you will gain from the harmed party. Forgiveness comes quicker, their trust in you is increased and the energy that is created by your honesty is preserved throughout the remaining project. Teams are strengthened and become more efficient when honesty is the foundation of the working relationships. Always tell the truth and communicate with clarity.

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3. Integrity
Integrity is earned. It can’t be faked or manipulated or purchased. Integrity comes from repeated examples of doing the right thing. Say what you mean. Do what you promise, when you promise, every time.

4. Respect
One of the most critical ingredients in a strong positive culture is respect. Listening well, hearing what people say and understanding what they mean will build strong bonds among team members. Shifting paradigms, or points of view, to better understand the reasons for decisions made and behaviors presented will allow for proper responses during difficult interactions. Treat all people as you would want to be treated and much of the remaining ingredients will fall into place with little effort.

5. Confidence
Moving from one level to the next in business often takes courage and risk. Communicating in public to groups or “important people” requires that you know your own capabilities and interestingly, your own capabilities may be far greater than you might think. As a father, an employer and a leader, one of my most important roles is to instill confidence in the people around me. With confidence, decisions are made quicker, more appropriately and with far more accuracy. Know your subject. Speak and act with confidence.

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6. Consistency
Creative people often rebel against systems or business structures. It is often thought that these restraints stifle genius and smother the creative process. The business of architecture though is much more than artistic pursuit. There is a foundation of fundamentals that are required for any business to thrive. Developing systems that provide a framework of consistency and predictability helps to build a better business and allows us more time to focus on innovation and creativity.

7. Knowledge
Intellectual property is created by knowing more than others and developing that information into an asset. The business of architecture is built upon the ideas of architects. The tools we use, such as drawings and digital representations are worthless without the ideas found within them. The more information to which we expose ourselves and the more we know, the more valuable we become as architects. Learn something new every day. Then reinforce it within your own mind by spreading your knowledge and sharing it with others who might benefit from knowing what you have to teach.

8. Family
Family always comes first. Keep your priorities in proper order.

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9. Innovation
There is always a better way. A thriving culture depends on constant improvement. If the work performed is based on the same solutions each and every time, stagnation sets in and teams degrade into boredom. Finding new solutions to everyday problems will keep teams enthusiastic, clients excited and new work walking through your doors. Whatever the challenge may be, constantly look for the better way.

10. Creativity
This why we became architects. Our creativity lead us to this place and time in our lives. Pursue your passion for creativity and allow your genius to lead you to your purpose.

You can see Mark R. LePage's work on his website, read more advice on Entrepreneur Architect and connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

And don't forget to read our interview with him, on the Novedge Blog.

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