[Case Study] MetroHealth Campus Transformation Project: Interview with Walter Jones (1 of 4)

The Cogence Alliance Resource Committee has committed to “tell the story,” through various case studies, concerning how the use of collaborative design and construction methods is positively impacting the construction industry. We begin this series by interviewing Walter Jones, the leader of the transformational $1B project at MetroHealth Cleveland’s Main Campus known as the Campus Transformation Project.

By way of background, Walter moved to the Cleveland area in 2014 after successfully completing the Parkland Memorial Hospital project in Parkland, Texas, near Dallas.  During the Parkland Memorial Hospital project, Walter participated in several pre-construction meetings and presentations designed to develop and implement a collaborative environment. For example, one presentation “brought in the whole family” to describe the project, including telling the story with one voice and clearly demonstrating how the organization would work together in continuum. Following this presentation and development of organizational and community support, tours of the facility were arranged in 2013-14 to highlight the innovative health care designs and incorporate “City Scenes” as part of the facility. In addition, during 2014 an Innovation Summit was held to focus on issues of sustainability and state-of-the-art engineering elements.

Walter’s participation in these activities served to increase his dedication to a core philosophy that project Owners should empower executive leadership to create and foster a culture of collaboration, rather than confrontation. In fact, one important reason why Walter was retained to provide leadership on this project was to ensure that the project would be completed in a culture of respect and collaboration. The old adage: “you get more with honey than a stick” clearly applies to Walter’s inclusive and supportive leadership style. He simply rejects the notion that it is necessary for Owners to be confrontational in order to achieve a successful project.

We asked Walter to explain how the selection of a project delivery method and execution of various contract documents impacted collaboration. Interestingly, Walter stated that “being collaborative can have nothing to do with contract documents.” The two concepts do not necessarily have to be connected.

The Request for Proposals on the MetroHealth project clearly describes the Owner’s intent to work in a collaborative environment. This environment includes the use of a “Big Room” where consultants and other project participants work side-by-side and adopt certain common behavioral standards. Such behavioral standards include acceptance of core principles of professionalism, ethics and compliance consistent with the Owner’s organizational mission, vision and core values. During the selection process, prospective project team members are interviewed and specifically asked if they are proficient regarding such behavioral standards and whether they are willing to conform to the collaborative model. This evaluation of behavior skill sets is an extremely important criteria in the selection process, and not mere lip service. Persons who demonstrate confrontational, difficult personalities are avoided early in the process. Incentives are provided and rewards are incorporated for reaching collaborative agreements. Team members are expected to regularly ask: “How are we working as a team?” and “How can we agree on a course of action that will save time or money?” Positive, collaborative discussions are incentivized rather than finger pointing and shouting matches.

How can an Owner create a culture of collaboration where no prior culture, or relationship of any type, may have previously existed between project participants? Some of the activities discussed above will certainly help set expectations and create an atmosphere necessary to establish the desired collaborative culture. But how does one deal with the reality that many project participants may not even know each other, let alone respect and trust one another? How will a collaborative culture be developed when individuals have different personalities, agendas, skills, biases and other traits and characteristics which reflect our diversity, as well as our strengths and weaknesses?

Enter Ellen Burts-Cooper, Ph.D.[1] MetroHealth has hired Ellen to coach the team and provide the necessary tools of collaboration. Ellen will use her academic and business consulting experience and expertise during regular sessions designed to educate the team regarding many topics, including the risks and dangers of confrontational behavior. Her lesson plans will be tailored to the needs of the project and intended to build trusting relationships which foster better communications.

The DiSC assessment tool will be used for individual assessments which tie into team assessments.[2] The project team will learn that some are results driven while others may be more analytical in their approach. Some team members are more supportive in the roles while others excel at demonstrating positive energy and enthusiasm. The sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts. Team members will learn how to effectively work with each other and that a “one style fits all” approach is usually ineffective.

Finally, Ellen will be called upon to facilitate the “tough discussions” in an effort to allow more comfortable conversations to take place. This can be especially difficult when emotions run high.

Walter appreciates team dynamics and the maturation process which will occur. Not everyone is a good fit for this unique type of large, long-term project. It may be necessary to “prune” the team down the road if people cannot get along well and perform collaboratively in the team environment.

Walter’s basic, straightforward approach can be summarized as follows:

  1. Effective collaboration cannot be achieved by simply adding mandatory language to a contract: “Thou shall collaborate”.
  2. The end goal is build a culture which instills in each team member the core values of the Owner’s organization and a commitment to work collaboratively to achieve the Owner’s objectives.
  3. One method to accomplish this goal, is to hire a talented coach to understand the team members, conduct periodic check-ups and help keep the team productive, resilient and cohesive.


[1] Ellen Burts-Cooper was a guest speaker at the Cogence Town Hall meeting in November 2017 and is the owner of Improve Consulting and Training Group, LLC. For more information about Ellen, go to www.improveconsulting.biz

[2] The Everything DiSC  assessment tool is a copyrighted product of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. and has been used for over 30 years to help people improve performance, deal more effectively with conflict, and value differences. Based on the belief that the first step toward change is to understand why we act the way we do, the tool explores the culture of your group and is equipped to provide facilitators with data about the diversity of interpersonal styles within your work group.