On Friday, May 13, 2011, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) Board of Directors toured the Bank of America Center in Charlotte, NC, and convened a roundtable of select representatives from the Bank of America project team to discuss collaboration. The session was focused on the collaborative process undertaken during the North Carolina Bank of America project and successful team practices. CIDA Director Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis Magazine, moderated the discussion.
Bank of America project team leaders who participated were:
David Dooley, Balfour Beatty Construction, Charlotte, NC (Contractor)
David Longo, CBI, Charlotte, NC (Furnishings)
John Morris, Perkins+Will, Charlotte, NC (Interior Design)
John Lijewski, Workplace Design Consultancy, Sister Bay, WI (Client)
Thomas Mozina, Perkins+Will, Chicago, IL (Architecture)
Bank of America Center project overview
The Bank of America Center is a mixed- use development located at 200 College Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. The project was a Bank self-managed real estate development intended to accommodate the Bank of Americas’ growing space requirements on the up-town headquarters campus. Envisioned as an administrative office building with a retail and hotel component, the complex connects to the Bank of America world headquarters by two sky bridges. In addition to the 30-story office tower and the 150-key Ritz Carlton Hotel, the two buildings are connected with an enclosed atrium and urban garden. The urban garden serves as a gathering space utilized by the Bank and the Ritz Carlton as well as the Charlotte civic community for large gatherings and special functions.
Currently, the Bank is planning on occupying the entire building with a combination of customer-facing and non-facing lines of business. In addition to the office space, the building houses a 490 seat auditorium and Broadcast center, a full floor training center, and a “My Work “ center, ( the Banks’ mobile worker program).
The Center was initially occupied in June of 2010 with final move in planned for late summer 2011. As one of Charlotte’s latest real estate developments, it has greatly enhanced the urban experience in the up-town Charlotte business district. What was once the back door to the Banks Corporate Head Quarters; it now is the center of activity both day time and the evening, truly contributing to the urban experience.
The Bank of America project and the collaborative process
The importance of building trusted relationships was a central theme that permeated the roundtable about collaboration on the Bank of America project. The key to this was building a common team understanding about the tenants of the collaborative endeavor and to reinforce those constantly throughout this extensive and complex project. A strong commitment to collaborative partnerships and core values coalesced in the client’s vision, the project team’s execution of that vision, and the Charlotte community’s support and participation in the project.
The project leaders expressed that team building exercises are critical to break down the barriers early in any project with multiple leaders. This requires forethought and having primary team leaders identified early. A high performance team coach who understands and champions the collaborative process is critical to successful team building. In the case of the Bank of America project, the group held a one and half day workshop to identify core values, build mechanisms to ensure accountability, and develop a charter that would guide the project team throughout the process.
The team charter was, “to be the best real estate development in Charlotte,” and value statements were established to support the process for accomplishing that charter. Value statements described professional attributes such as being an active listener, expressing opinions openly, being responsible for outcomes, coming to the table with suggestions rather than criticisms, and recognizing excellence when merited. This team charter was distributed to all team members throughout the project and provided guidelines for expected attitudes and behaviors.
The team charter was not just words on a piece of paper. The team charter stayed in front of everyone as part of wall décor, signage, and was even printed on mouse pads as a reminder. When the charter was not followed, individual coaching sessions took place. This approach to team management created constant teaching moments, and project leaders learned that it is far better to take action immediately than it is to wait and allow problems to escalate. This approach also requires core team leaders to completely understand and commit to the principles of the charter. They found the need to continually go back to the charter to refresh and regroup when complex issues arose. The group agreed that a degree of consistency in the team leadership helped keep the charter alive and central to the Bank of America team process.
Project leaders expressed that, “trust is huge—without trust, the risk of failure is great.” Because of trusted relationships, the collaborative process was positive even when strong personalities disagreed. In order to accomplish this, project leaders had to embrace the inherent value of multiple voices and interdisciplinary teams. Equally as important, egos needed to be put aside in order to allow for open exchange. One leader noted that empathy is a highly valuable attribute in projects that require strong collaboration.
Opportunities for socialization also are crucial to build trust. The project team would gather for social and volunteer activities, such as building a playground together, going to driving school at NASCAR, visiting Panther Stadium, etc. There was constantly an aura of working together as partners. The investment in socializing the team resulted in mutual respect and the foundation for healthy conflict, which in turn supported the collaborative synergy that lead to exceptional project innovation. As one team member put it, “This is how the magic happens. True collaboration unlocks innovation.”
The group also commented on the importance of nurturing a culture of recognition and appreciation. Before each meeting, the Bank of America project team was asked to identify and recognize a team member that had gone above and beyond. Celebrating milestones and accomplishments throughout the long and complex project refreshed energy and enthusiasm for reaching goals. Pride in outcomes was key to achieving goals. One leader noted that, “team members must have the personal and professional drive to pursue innovation – otherwise mediocrity results.” In the Bank of America project, compensation was aligned around meeting goals, which motivated team members to go above and beyond.
Communication was a significant factor in the successful teaming strategy. Due to the dynamic of the business, the Bank of America project included the frequent need to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. A field office on site, where the primary design and construction partners were located, greatly facilitated responding almost immediately to changed circumstances and fostered a level of trust that team members felt was unique to this circumstance. Sharing the field office required, as one leader put it, “living the collaboration”. Outstanding technology also provided an exceptional tool for collaboration, allowing the team to conduct meetings via tele-presence so that specialists and consultants from all over the country could very effectively participate in the process.
Tactically, using a limited number of standards for furniture proved very efficient, essentially creating a kit of parts adaptable to a variety of uses and streamlining the information flow when team leaders needed to coordinate changes. The mock-up at the Ritz Carlton was also very helpful as a communication and problem solving tool. The mock-up included a detailed hotel corridor and two complete guest rooms, as well as phantom clients. This exercise was an excellent resource for the client and project team and resulted in informed judgments about value engineering consistently with the design intent, including when a lower cost alternative simply would not meet the desired brand aesthetic.
Change management of the corporate culture was a critical communication element of the design process as well, particularly in gaining employee acceptance of new concepts and practices. The team leaders recommended talking to employees about the reasons for the design decisions and how those decisions are going to impact employees’ lives. The team leaders needed several opportunities to interact with employees in order for employees to embrace changes and new ways of operation. This repeated interchange consequently supported the successful implementation of innovative workplace practices into the Bank’s corporate culture. For instance, the “my workplace” concept of touchdown spaces integrated the practice of telecommuters periodically working in undesignated, interchangeable workspaces. Communication with employees was a two-way street. Pre- and post-occupancy employee evaluations influenced the workplace design, particularly related to acoustical and visual distraction.
The “right” client attitude was also necessary for successful collaboration on the Bank of America project. Building on the strong team foundation, the Bank hired individuals and firms who they regarded as trusted partners with a history of strong past performance. Additionally, the Bank and project team sincerely treated the City of Charlotte as a partner, including collegial relationships with inspectors who genuinely wanted to assist the Bank team in addressing unexpected issues that arose during the construction process.
Collaboration as a key corporate value can be seen throughout the Bank of America Corporate Center. Employees have access to varied, beautifully-designed, naturally-lit team spaces throughout the office building. The corporate center buildings include numerous and well-appointed spaces to host community activities and business meetings, such as the CIDA Board meeting. Additionally, residents and visitors to the City of Charlotte are welcome to share and enjoy many common areas, including outdoor venues, rooftop gardens, restaurants, and retail shops. The icing on the cake — all has been accomplished sustainably.