How to make people want to work with you – without taking on low-margin work, undercutting on fees or giving over control

Never has there been a greater need for architects to adapt if they are to prosper

Practices undercut each other, taking on low-margin work in their desperation to cover fixed outlays, and farming out tasks involving once-prized specialist skills to cheaper markets or software programmes. Much of their work is done for free – feasibility studies for developers, designs submitted to competitions they have little chance of winning. Meanwhile an army of project managers, consultants, acoustic engineers, lighting designers are taking over as if banishing the architect to the margins of a kingdom they once ruled.

Architects’ role is key

Yet society needs architects to play a central role in finding solutions to the housing shortage, polluted cities, abandoned public space, climate change, and much more besides. Within each of these huge challenges are smaller problems that architects can help solve.

The 2015 RIBA report, Client & Architect: Developing The Essential Relationship, noted that:

Good people skills boost your reputation, helping you to win work and repeat business;
they breed trust and reduce perceived risk: people WANT you around

Good people skills and communication mean clients have to do less and worry less. Good communication involves keeping the client ahead of the game. Moreover, architects who listen and understand are better placed to challenge the brief.

A skills upgrade is vital

Yet, worryingly, the RIBA report also noted that ‘many architects lack the people skills needed for collaborative working’. Roundtable groups put together to inform the report said that clients think architects who listen and understand properly are rare. Different clients need to be listened to differently.

Architects as leaders

Architects know that they need to collaborate to succeed – they can’t afford not to. But how will they go about doing it? How will they make collaboration happen? Just as importantly, how will architects make the changes necessary to become not only more collaborative, but leaders of this effort, amidst disruptive change? Because the truth is that, by not collaborating, architects become marginalised. Not knowing how to effectively collaborate will lead to their irrelevance. In highly fragmented sectors, such as the built environment, even greater attention must be paid to good people skills.

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