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Back to Blog Home 5 key things successful architects do differently

Clarity Learning Engagement Alignment Responsiveness

…and none of them are ‘rocket science.’


I love what I do.

And I realise what a rare privilege that is.

Because I love architecture.

Not just the built outcomes of architecture. But also its process – the behind-the-scenes creative and management activity needed to deliver uniquely designed built forms.

And for more than 15 years my various roles have provided a passport to the studios, back rooms and innermost thinking of leading (and not-so-leading) architects and architectural practices, across Australia and the world.

I have seen, and experienced, architecture and its practice from just about every conceivable angle.

Which has given me the opportunity to observe and distil the attributes and approaches that typify highly successful architectural practices. And that are under-represented in practices that achieve less.

The other thing I love about what I’m doing now is that I get to share what I’ve learned. And more importantly, to gain the incredible fulfilment of watching architectural practices blossom as a result.

So, in the spirit of sharing, I’d like to let you know what I’ve discovered. Here’s what successful architectural practices do that their less effective colleagues and competitors don’t…

  1. They operate with extreme clarity:
  • starting with a clearly articulated statement of purpose or mission (or Why?) for their business and each individual team or division
  • ensuring that their communications, whether internal or external, visual (written or drawn) or spoken, are unambiguous, concise and accurate
  • clearly defining the roles of all team members, to minimise confusion and unnecessary overlap, and
  • elucidating their core values and the behaviours required to exemplify them.
  1. They see continual learning as non-negotiable:
  • realising that creativity is highly dependent on research and purposeful experimentation
  • understanding that failures generate potentially the most valuable learning experiences
  • encouraging critical feedback both within teams and from clients and partners
  • seeing the primary purpose of performance evaluation as being the basis for individualised professional development plans
  • aggressively facilitating innovation in operating systems, design processes and built outcomes, and
  • identifying that teaching others is a powerful way to promote the business and develop a service-focused brand.
  1. They recognise the power of engagement:
  • preferring to ‘get out there’ (both physically and via social media) to participate with clients and prospects rather than just waiting and hoping for the next commission
  • creating multiple and frequent opportunities for team members and partners to relate and exchange ideas
  • positioning marketing as an interactive, bilateral process, not as the simple dissemination of (supposedly) persuasive information
  • getting involved in relevant professional and industry bodies to contribute to the evolution of policies and perspectives that ultimately benefit both the community and the practice, and
  • developing inclusive relationships with clients and prospects to help them feel part of the business rather than just another paying customer.
  1. They actively create alignment:
  • between their purpose and their values
  • between their vision and their strategies
  • between what they say and what they do
  • between their leadership and other team members, and
  • between their objectives and their
  1. They demand responsiveness from their team and partners:
  • perceiving and quickly addressing the often-changing needs of clients and collaborators
  • reacting to workplace and business challenges in a timely and strategic way
  • supporting everyone in the business to take ownership of the customer experience
  • adopting a framework in which decision-making is devolved, efficient and timely, and
  • creating a culture focused on ‘meeting your needs’ rather than ‘meeting my/our

And what’s especially critical for these highly successful practices is that they do all these things deliberately and explicitly.

The guidance required for all in the practice to effectively contribute to achieving great outcomes is written down, shared and actively reinforced by the leadership and the actions of everyone in the business.

So, how successful is your architecture practice?

If you’d like a ‘quick and dirty’ measure of your practice’s performance, just give yourself a score out of 4 on each of the individual dot points above (there are 25 of them).

If your total score is better than 75, you can be reasonably confident you’re achieving close to your overall potential, but there may still be room for improvement.

Between 50 and 75, you’re clearly doing a number of things right, but some strategic and operational changes in the right areas will definitely enhance your business performance.

Below 50, it’s clear that your practice could be achieving at a significantly higher level and you should probably seek assistance to make the changes needed for greater success.

But whatever your score, I’m yet to find the perfect practice, so if you managed 100, or something close to it, please get in touch so I can learn more about your secrets of success.


Ross Clark is the founder of Melbourne-based business coaching and advisory firm, WhyWhatHow.  He has more than thirty years’ experience mentoring and coaching architects and creative professionals to productively start, creatively innovate, and substantially grow their practices.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read: “The five dysfunctions of an architecture practice” 

© 2018 WhyWhatHow