Communication #101: Baggage check

It’s a truism that communication is important: it’s a given, an entirely reasonable expectation and an unquestionable statement of fact. I have heard many people say that good communication is the bedrock of the construction industry, and one would be hard-pressed to find many papers within the construction management literature that do not reach a similar conclusion, either explicitly or implicitly, regardless of whether communication was the focus of the research.

Yet when we seek to ‘teach’ communication, what exactly do we mean to impart? How might students come to learn about the characteristics of effective communication, within the sometimes frantic and disjointed, yet exciting, environment of a construction project? In this context, practice is certainly more meaningful than theory in my opinion, but the usual characterisation and modelling of industry practice that we tend to see in the academic setting can be too safe, too sanitised.

Reflecting on the first phase of the BIMHub project, it has certainly gone beyond normal expectations in this regard. BIMHub has been a communication crucible for all those involved, both students and staff. It has offered a transformative environment, sometimes fiery and provocative, which has challenged us in many ways.

My personal take-away from the project has revolved around assumptions: BIMHub has taught us to check our baggage before we fly, or rather design in this case. It is only when we step outside our normal operating environment that we appreciate just how many assumptions we are making. We may unwittingly assume that our colleagues in a team have a common understanding of terms, of process, of quality – but such assumptions can have unfortunate consequences. Everyone carries assumptions, but these need to be aired, discussed and clarified on a regular basis in order for the design team to function well.

I have seen examples in practice where design assumptions have led to poorly managed and under-utilised HVAC installations – expensive and embarrassing white elephants. Clearly, within the academic environment assumptions do not carry such financial penalties, but the quality of team interactions can suffer when the consequences of an assumption come to light. Blame won’t help matters, so effective teams need to overcome any anger, embarrassment or tension in the room, and pull together again, perhaps even a little stronger as a result.

I’m pleased that BIMHub has reminded us of this important communication lesson, so don’t forget to check in your bags, ladies and gentlemen… Then, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.


Jacqui Glass

Twitter: @profjacquiglass

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