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Stop Letting Power Imbalances Undermine Your Team

Hey Construction Nation!

Do you have power imbalances on your projects? Within your business? Well today we are going to take a look at this phenomenon. Here is an example:

The owner hired a designer to develop bridging documents (BDD). Now the designer of record (DOR) is designing the facility and the DOR feels that they are being undermined by the BDD at each step of the way. The BDD seems to want things way beyond what was in the contract. The BDD has the ear of the owner and feels they must protect what was promised to the stakeholders. No matter how many iterations the DOR submits, they just can’t make the BDD, and thus the owner, happy.

We have power imbalances all through the construction industry, both on our projects, with 3rd parties, and within our business and organizations. These power imbalances make it very difficult to build a strong cohesive team.  Today we’re going to explore where some typical power imbalances occur.

Project Power Imbalances

On a construction project the owner has most of the power. They decide what is to be built, by whom, what is a change, and how much they will pay. But that is not the only power imbalance we have on our jobs. Here are six other classic power imbalances we must manage on our projects:

  • Owner and General Contractor
  • General Contractor and Subcontractors/Specialty Trades
  • Owners Representative and All the Contractors
  • Architect and Subconsultants
  • Bridging Document Architect and Designer of Record
  • Inspector and Foreman/Superintendent


Third Party Power Imbalances

None of our projects are built in a vacuum. There are cities, counties, municipalities, regulatory, permitting, and funding agencies that impact our projects. The main power imbalance here, is that they have power to interrupt your ability to succeed, and you have little power to get them to act. This exists between:

  • Owner and Regulatory Agencies
  • Contractors and Permitting Agencies
  • Owner and Funding Agency


Business Power Imbalances

You might not realize it, but you likely have power imbalances playing out even within your own business or organization. Here are a few of the typical power imbalances:

  • Owner/Executive over Employee
  • Field Team over Office Team
  • Between Divisions (PM  CM, Maintenance  Project Management, etc.)

To be a strong cohesive team you need to be a team of equals. These power imbalances undermine your ability to form a strong team. Of course, your ability to perform will be impacted. What can you do when you face a Power Imbalance?

Neutralize it!

Here are 4 Tips for Neutralizing Power Imbalances

Tip #1: Recognize it

Just like with everything in life, the first step is to recognize that you have a power imbalance.

a.    If you have the power…

It can be difficult to see a power imbalance when YOU are the one with the power. But it is just as important, if not more important, to recognize power imbalances and any negative impacts that are resulting from it. Look for situations where your power might be undermining communication, cooperation, and collaboration. If you have the power, people are NOT likely to tell you when there is an imbalance. Look where you are not getting the results you need. Then use your power to foster communication and transparency to create a strong, cohesive team.

b.    If you don’t have the power…

You are more likely to recognize a power imbalance if you don’t have the power because of the uncomfortable nature of it. You will likely feel frustration and want relief. Look for those places and see if you have a power imbalance playing out. Once you recognize it, you can start to try to neutralize it.

Just a few thoughts about having a clear chain of command. That is not what we are talking about here. While it is important to know where to go if you disagree about something and where you can get an answer if needed, a true power imbalance consists between someone with authentic power and someone who does not have as much power and this imbalance is creating an imbalance within the team. This is one of the reasons that construction partnering works so well in that it neutralizes the power imbalances.

Tip #2: Set Ground Rules

By setting ground rules you can help to create a way of communicating and working together as equals. I assume everyone always knows each other’s roles, responsibilities, and authority level. You don’t have to operate in a hierarchical way. You can act like a team of equals, setting up ground rules that develop transparency, open communication, creative problem solving, and innovation. You can always step back into your traditional roles if needed. But, most of the time they aren’t needed.

Some Potential Ground Rules might be:

  • Everyone is created equally – one person, one vote
  • There are no dumb questions or dumb ideas
  • You have the power to make a difference
  • Listen to understand – not to debate
  • We are ONE team


Tip #3: Foster Shared Problems Solving and Creativity

Every team and business has problems. Different people in different roles or departments, often see and define a problem differently and, thus, they see the solution very differently. So why not bring together the stakeholders to share their different perspectives. Once they understand and fully see fully the problem, have them co-create an agreed upon solution. This way you truly see the “big picture” and solve the problem in a way that works for everyone. And best yet, since people don’t argue with what they help to create, the odds are very high that the solution will be fully implemented.

Tip #4: Use Your Power to Recommend

I hear all the time from team members, that they don’t have the power to make a decision or do what is needed. Please remember that you ALWAYS have the power to make a recommendation. In fact, leaders love, love, love when their people provide a well thought out recommendation. Whenever you, or your team, or someone you know feels like they are stuck because they can’t get a decision, stop and ask yourself, what would you recommend? What is the best solution/idea/way? Then share this with the decision maker(s).

Some years ago I worked with a very famous Hollywood film producer. He loved to make the decisions – but he challenged his team to always give him three options and the ramifications for each, and then he chose his preferred option from the three. Never just sit and wait. You have the power to make great recommendations.


There you have it Construction Nation, four tips for dealing with the power imbalances we face daily within our construction projects and business.  If you’d like to hear more, listen to Episode 64 on the Lead With Trust Podcast or watch the episode on the sudyco YouTube channel.

Until Next time,

P.S.  Lead with Trust is a Podcast, Newsletter and YouTube Channel.  Listen how you like to get your information.

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