Why collaboration among competitors is effective for your architecture firm

William Caudill in his book "Architecture by Team" wrote: "Let the team – designers, manufacturers, and builders – be the architect." Creating great architectural projects requires not only a good concept but also multidisciplinary skills. Nowadays, the architecture and building industry is based around a lot of actors that engage in providing a better final product. According to the NAAB 2013 Accreditation Review Conference, more than 80% of the architects interviewed rated that collaboration (with stakeholders) is important.

In today’s industry, collaborative processes are considered very challenging due to the culture of competition that usually prevails. However, engineers, energy experts, artists, etc. are a few of the most important collaborators of architects. Extending the collaborative culture towards having partnerships with professionals of the same field, is a strategic move that can improve the overall performance of your firm.

Successful collaboration

Partnerships among competitors have proved to be successful and if done well, they can be tactical and create win-win opportunities. Over the recent years, architecture firms have started to place a vast emphasis on quality collaborations. According to NCARB’s contribution to the NAAB 2013 Accreditation Review Conference (ARC), over 80 percent of architects rated “collaboration with stakeholders” as important/critical

Teamwork and creativity are required in order to realize the best solutions and solve common design problems. Coordination of project goals, work tasks, responsibilities, etc. are also considered crucial in order to have effective cooperation. Besides, successful architecture needs a great relationship between the architects/designers and their clients. Therefore, the client should be supportive and understanding of the time needed to develop these collaborations (at first).

Competitive advantage

The collaborative mindset has started to change business models and create value in the architecture industry. Even though collaboration is not new in our profession, the architectural collaboration between practices is being discussed more often among professionals during this decade. Engaging in partnerships with architectural practices of all sizes can bring mutual benefit and long-term development for all parties involved. A small firm can grow steadily by collaborating with a larger practice, while a large practice can join forces with another large practice and share experiences, staff, costs, and work to reach common goals and attract new clients. In this way, cooperation can be considered a low-cost method for new competitors to gain visibility, technology, and market access.

BIM platforms

The development of advanced technological sharing platforms has enabled new opportunities for practices that develop their work via collaborations. Partnering with firms working from different locations is made easier and design information can be shared in real-time. Adoption of BIM has extended the use of specific software between professionals, not only during the design phase but also during the later phases of applying for building permits and construction.

On authorship and contribution

Authorship can be a problem for small practices and junior specialists. According to Steve Featherstone, director of Abell Nepp Architects, well-known for having collaboration at the core of their business model, it is important to always define ownership and who is doing the critically important work. Defining the responsibilities of each partner involved is beneficial for the process and the quality of the product.

Smaller practices can have a great chance to work on high-profile projects usually by pairing up with larger partners. By working as an undisclosed consultant/partner at first, you can improve your reputation and gain knowledge that can bring in more clients. Even though the route is not easy, it is crucial to maintain a serious and highly professional profile and gain the trust of your partners.

Learning from your partners

Alliances are viewed as opportunities to broaden the skills and competencies of each partner involved. Diffusing new knowledge and technologies through collaboration often leads to stronger companies. Such benefits are representative of competitive tactics, which have recently contributed to an increased willingness of architecture firms towards collaboration.

Focusing on providing a service that is not only specialized but also of great quality, can give you a design credit that is vital for your practice's future. It is also important to be open to your clients whenever there is a need to bring in design expertise and collaborate with other specialists. The added value that comes from successful collaborations is unparalleled.