Integrate or Disintegrate

Integrate or disintegrate was a statement I made while facilitating a multi-day kickoff meeting for a mission critical project. My point to the folks was that only as an integrated team could we achieve the aggressive objectives set for this project. I used the example of the 2004 USA Olympic basketball team for what could happen if we didn't integrate.

The USA committee had assembled Lebron James, Tim Duncan and other high paid superstars to deliver another gold medal as in years past. However, when it came to the semifinal game to decide which team would play for the gold, they were beat by a less talented Argentina team. Why? Because the USA did not perform as an integrated team. Argentina had played together for over a year; the USA team for a few weeks.

Here is where I find the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definitions to be enlightening.


  • to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole
  • to unite with something else
  • to incorporate into a larger unit


  • to break or decompose into constituent elements, parts, or small particles
  • to destroy the unity or integrity of
The next analogy I used for the group was that of driving a car with the wheels out of alignment. That car is hard to steer, tires wear out faster and it's no fun to drive. Teams can be the same way. Think about the bad projects you've been on (we've all had them!). How integrated were they? What were the signs indicating disintegration? Did conversations shift from "us" to "them," negative feelings develop towards team members, an increase in unnecessary RFIs, and finally conversations taking place only in the presence of attorneys?!

However, no project sets out to disintegrate. Yet, assembling a group of designers, construction managers, and trades does not guarantee integration any more than throwing the wheels, engine, chassis, and other parts into a garage and assume you have a drivable car! I submit to the reader that the bulk of waste or loss of value on our projects are a result of misaligned, disintegrated teams. The waste of rework, delays, and unused innovative ideas from teammates who are not heard cost us owners real money. The objective of Lean is to do away with a lot of that waste. Here is another definition from The Cambridge Dictionary:

to integrate is also to combine two or more things to make something more effective

I've observed most people are all for team integration, yet wince at the mention of "Lean" and the associated practices. This is too bad. And in some ways I agree with the apprehension; tools used for the wrong purpose can disrupt a project for the worse. I've also found that most people will do the "what" if they understand the "why." I think some of us, myself included, have not done justice on explaining the "why" when coaching our teams. To that point, when the methods are viewed as a means to integrate the team, objections dissipate, and real benefits can be obtained. What follows is my take on the "why" for a sample of Lean methods to enable integration:

  • Integrated Form of Agreement (IFOA) – Contracts have the potential to codify a culture of collaboration. The IFOA approach aligns the team on common goals through a shared risk/reward structure. One objective is to get the issue of money and self-interest out of the way so the team can focus together on delivering value and avoiding value erosion (VE).
  • Last Planner System - This planning approach brings all members of the project team together to coordinate work plans that really can be done instead of a having a schedule dictated to them. Our trade partners often come up with simple, innovative ideas to deliver on time what even the best P6 scheduler could ever conceive.
  • Big Room - Besides all the logistical benefits, having the team co-located takes advantage of the propinquity effect. The number of wasteful meetings are reduced and replaced with meaningful, short, and real-time problem solving conversations.
  • BIM - More than just software, BIM is a platform from which a team can design collaboratively instead of from the traditional, disparate silos.
  • Coaching - Great teams require coaches that spend significant time with players through observation and instruction. Key players on the team often only become aware of non-integrated behavior and practices from an outside member who has wider field of view.
  • Choosing by Advantages (CBA) - Decision making with multiple stakeholders can be challenging. CBA is a facilitated method that focuses the collective team on rational, durable decision making as a group exercise. The benefit is reduced costly rework of decisions from late or absent opinions and information.
  • Conditions of Satisfaction (CoS) - Having shared goals, broader than cost and schedule, gives the entire team alignment towards what good looks like at the end of the project. CoS is the true north for the team, bigger than individual goals, to concert all efforts towards completion of the project.
  • Target Value Design (TVD) - TVD aligns the team on cost as a parameter in design to reduce design rework. The team collaborates on options to maximize the amount of value for the dollar spent within cost constraints.
  • Retrospectives - Projects are just one grand experiment after another! What is learned about how we work together is essential for improving future performance and avoiding disintegrating behaviors. Periodic facilitated sessions to improve team dynamics is what the best learning organizations do.
Wondering where to start? If you're considering a first shot at an integrated project get a coach to lead you through the integration methods. Think about it, if you were just learning to play golf would you start by picking up a book on golf before heading to the course? Golfers would tell you to go get lessons with the club pro to coach you through the fundamentals. And if you wanted to progress to the next level of your game they would tell you to get input from better coaches and attend weekend workshops. So should we. Is what we do in construction any less important than the game of golf or basketball?

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