I see collaboration as a three Legged stall.
The three legs to the stool to create a truly collaborative project are technical intelligence, commercial intelligence, and behavioural intelligence.
But before leaping in to the addition of behavioural intelligence to our stool it’s worth taking a moment to reaffirm if collaboration is the right way forward, what we gain from it and what are the cost associated with it?
Let’s touch on purpose from moment
It is not about having a good time and just being nice to each other. This is about achieving a better commercial outcome. Sometimes therefore the answer is that a transactional relationship rather than collaborative is actually the most effective.
It is therefore worth taking time to analyse your project and agree and design the right relationships, remembering that different parts of a team can have different relationships.
Our rule of thumb around this being the; The greater the uncertainty the greater the need for collaboration.
So, where we decide that collaboration is the answer, what else can help those projects achieve the desired result. We believe that behavioural intelligence is an essential part of that mixture, But perhaps rather than behavioural intelligence let’s look at it in terms of behavioural risk.
As an industry, we attract mostly technically minded people and therefore as an industry we are very good at solving technical challenges and managing technical risks, we are also good at managing commercial risks, but behavioural risks all too often fall into the too difficult category and therefore are left to chance.
However, as we dig deeper into many technical and commercial risks on projects the root causes of potential likelihood of occurrence are in fact behavioural. We have found through experience that by creating a clear link between the technical and commercial risks and the underlying behaviour it is more likely that the project team will give due attention to the behavioural risks.
So where do the behavioural risks lie?
First and foremost, it is with the leadership.
Leaders have a long shadow that impact on organisations. The leaders behaviours will set the stage for others to follow.
Leaders need to demonstrate openness, fairness, trust and empathy. As well as displaying these behaviours, they must understand why they are important. Again, it is not just to be nice or to be liked, it is these behaviours that will empower teams to create better results for the project and for your businesses.
However, the drive for collaboration does not stop there. The middle management need to also buy in to the process and they need to understand why it is important. This is the area which we currently see as the most common blocker in the market.
We see this is where the industry should be focusing on for training and development. What we also need to acknowledge is the necessity of innovative learning techniques. Behavioural awareness is not something that can be trained in a three hour classroom session. We need action learning sets to be developed and to enable cross organisational personnel development to match the sort of pan industry process development that’s been achieved by David Hawkins and his colleagues at ICW getting to ISO-44,001.
Developing behavioural awareness, or sometimes called emotional intelligence, is about empowering people to understand behaviour so that they can act in the most effective manner for obtaining the results that they, and hopefully everyone want.
This is a difficult skill, as most of the time we think we understand what we see before us and unconsciously react. Where we want to get to is the ability to take a moment to understand the possible meaning of behaviour in front of us before reacting.
Remember, behaviour is not an isolated incident and it is our perception of that behaviour that we react upon.
We need to try and understand that there is also a whole string of baggage behind the behaviour that we witness.
We also need to remember that our perception of that behaviour is equally influenced by all of our own baggage.
We tend to look at this in terms of antecedents – what has happened before this moment. If we can cast light on that we will have the best chance of understanding current behaviour.
When trying to create collaborative relationships, it pays dividends to try to understand your partners.
There are many different facets but some that are certainly worth exploring our National culture, we have more and more multinational joint ventures and given the UK infrastructure pipeline we are likely to need many more.
These cultures are not just National but maybe organisational as well, do you really understand your partners cultures?
What are the commercial drivers for the different businesses involved and what sort of commercial model has been established. Then right down to the people, remember, people come in many different types. Do you understand the makeup of the team you are working with?
All of these have the potential to create behavioural risks to effective collaboration on projects, so just as an example let’s take one practical question of communication.
Let us assume I am working in an egalitarian business, this culture could be due to our nationality but it could also just be our organisational culture.
I request some information from someone in our partner organisation which happens to be a very hierarchical business. Let’s look at the information transaction on what I consider, and conveyed, to be an important issue to my partner.
My counterpart will be inclined to appreciate the important nature of my request and therefore pass the question up their internal hierarchy and wait for an answer to come back down before it is passed back to me. Obviously this internal transaction causes delay.
From my side being from my flat structure I assume inefficiency, apathy and lack of respect for me due to that delay.
From my partner side they believe they have acted impeccably and offered me and my information request the respect due by using their correct hierarchy.
Let’s turn the tables.
I receive a request from my partner, being a flat organisation I can reply straight back with the information. I have been super-efficient and provided excellent communications to my partner.
From their point of view, I could not possibly have checked that answer with my superiors so in fact they are quite likely to ask again.
Without understanding the company backgrounds both of those examples would have ended up with both people dissatisfied and frustrated, we would have created a behavioural barrier between at least those two people if not two organisations.
In practice, to really understand projects, we also need to test perception on the project as it progresses to keep that up-to-date.
And perception, well that can be really confusing. The only way to really do this is to ask and seek feedback from the team.
If you undertake that, you will arm yourselves with data on what is driving the behaviours on your project.
Most projects test physical progress and commercial progress but do not seek feedback on perceptions and behaviours. If you generate this data from all levels of the project team, you will also breakthrough traditional communication filters and gain a clear early warning system. If you test the behavioural traits that can be identified as the root causes of your top risks, You will add massively to your management of risk as well as the strength and effectiveness of your collaborative team.
The data collected enables dialogue about difficult issues that are often left to fester.
If done via and anonymised mechanism it will focus the team on solutions rather than just shooting the messenger. The resulting dialogue will identify areas of the project that are working well and those that need intervention.
In tandem with technical and commercial intelligence that we heard about previously this approach will support your collaborative endeavour.
So to sum up.
We would suggest that you design the relationships on your projects.
Take some time and develop the relationships right at the start of the project, that is where you will have the most impact.
Try and understand the antecedence involved in the relationship.
Develop behavioural awareness.
Monitor and manage the relationships and try to understand the perceptions that are driving the behaviours on your project.
Look out for early warnings, the smouldering embers in the grass are there if you know what you’re looking for.
Deal with issues early, even if they are difficult. Procrastination will only make them worse.
Once you have listened to the team and generated actions and interventions, communicate them back and create a feedback loop.