I’ve worked in the architectural and design field for more than 25 years. In that time, I’ve seen the leadership mistakes people make and I’ve come to realize much of this disconnect can be attributed to a lack of authentic relationship-building at work.
Building strong connections with your colleagues is essential to the happiness and success of your team and, ultimately, to the profitability of the overall business.
Architecture is inherently an apprenticeship, “more time equals more experience” type of profession. There are no algorithms or handbooks on how to run an architectural practice, but one thing is definitive: It takes humanity to design for humanity. Every day the goal is to listen, solve a problem, and create something meaningful, beautiful, unique and educative.
As a leader, it is critical to attain effective results for your clients, and ones that you can be proud of, in addition to building experience for the next project.
For me, there are three leadership strategies I employ every day to build meaningful and productive relationships with my 35-person team at CBT Architects. The most critical part of my job is getting to know each of my colleagues in and out of the office because, as cliché as it is, people are a company’s greatest asset.
1. Don’t define success and failure.
The moment you push your opinion on others about the definitions of success and failure, you take a step back in developing successful relationships. You can’t think or expect your colleagues will subscribe to everything you say. We are all wired differently in the way we absorb, retain and react to information. It’s important to really know the people on my team and understand them on a level more intimate than the standard boss-worker relationship. If I’m delegating work during a meeting, I need to know each person to best communicate the team’s needs or tasks.
Whether you hold a senior-level position at a multibillion-dollar company or you’re the CEO of a small business, it’s critical you are constructive and positive during communication. Explain a project or task to the best of your ability, but resonate with your team by showing them.
This is also important for identifying employees who have a true passion for their work instead of the 9-to-5-ers who are just looking for a paycheck. But it’s still important to treat everyone relatively the same, regardless of the level of enthusiasm they show. Find the most effective way to communicate with them to motivate them to the degree they can be most successful. If I know or can anticipate where the successes and failures might arise, it’s easy for me to calculate risks when delegating work and to know just how much line I can give someone before I need to jump in and interfere.
But remember, there isn’t a singular method of communication and no exact formula for connecting with colleagues on a personal level. Albert Einstein once said, “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” I wake up every day living by that philosophy. When you try to communicate in a one-size-fits-all way, often you won’t get the response you are looking for. Give people the freedom to determine what they deem successes and failures. Give people the freedom to take chances.
2. Invest time in your team.
Everything I learned throughout my career stems back to how I was treated by my bosses, mentors and fellow peers. If you don’t treat them with the same respect as you would a friend or family member, nine out of 10 times you won’t get the outcome you want.
In my industry, you need to think differently on every project because each property has a rich history and great story to tell. Repositioning is all about leveraging and enlivening a building’s existing features and amenities, while maintaining the essence of what makes the building unique in the first place.
In a similar fashion, people (like buildings) have their own personal history and story to tell. As team leader, it’s necessary to understand who each person really is: where they come from, what interests them, why they’re here and what drives them. Once I have the answers to these types of questions I can identify their weaknesses and utilize them in a way that illuminates their strengths so they feel encouraged and proud of their work.
I want and need to know what motivates my team members. Building authentic relationships at work takes time but in the end, it’s the most important part of the job. You have to care about your colleagues—not as tools for a business, but as human beings. You have to show them the respect and support they deserve while making them feel like part of a greater good.
3. Infuse entrepreneurialism into your work culture.
It’s very easy for a boss to take control of a situation and make all of the decisions. For example, in the architecture industry, it’s common for a CEO or lead designer to decide what it should look like. I have learned throughout my career that although this is a common practice in many firms, it fails to spark curiosity or push teammates to be entrepreneurial.
On my team, I enforce the notion that everyone is considered equal—from our group leaders to project managers to interns. Everyone not only has a seat, but also a voice at the table. To convey that notion, use the word “we” instead of “I” or “my.”
But of course, actions speak louder than words. It’s crucial for people, regardless of their title, to be given real-world experience right off the bat. When you allow people to be entrepreneurial and take ownership of a project or assignment, you allow creative and innovative thinking.
This also means you have to let people make their own mistakes, which can sometimes be a big but necessary risk for their personal and professional development. Give people different opportunities to grow and challenge themselves. It takes a positive attitude to achieve positive results so make sure people know you believe in them.
When I was new in my industry, I remember waiting for my managers to tell me what they wanted as a design or end result. It felt like I was simply their drafting arm and not part of a solutions team. Architecture can be an egotistical profession at times—highly subjective and highly vulnerable to critique. So why take the chance when you could easily wait until someone gave you the answer? Working this way didn’t help my own professional growth and for that reason, I decided I wouldn’t let that happen to others. Managers give out tasks; leaders show people how to do them.
People are inspired by what they see and those they look up to. By giving my team the freedom and liberty to take charge and assume responsibility, I endeavor to gain their increased respect and inspire a culture of passion for what we do.
Related: 8 New Rules of Innovative Leadership
Haril A. Pandya, AIA, LEED AP, is an award-winning principal at CBT Architects. With over 22 years of professional experience in corporate office, hospitality, mixed-use and retail projects, Haril leads the firm’s rapidly expanding Building Repositioning and Asset Strategy division. A published writer and public speaker, he is a recipient of the AIA’s Young Architects Award and was named to Building Design + Construction's “40 under 40” and Banker & Tradesman’s “New Leaders” lists. Haril received a bachelor’s in building science and a bachelor’s in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.