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Apr 01

RADAR Roundtable – Do your collaborative working upfront – 29 March 2017

Collaboration Up front

A Roundtable event was held on 29 March focused on the practical aspect of collaborative working.  The discussion was led by Nick Hopcroft of Highways England and Matt Stacey of BAM Nuttall.  The session was introduced by Ed Moore, Chief Executive of ResoLex, who observed a missing step in many peoples understanding around collaboration.  Whilst most people think it would be desirable, few have the experience or knowledge to understand how to set up a collaborative project in practice. This session is intended to help fill in this important gap.

Nick Hopcroft opened the session by highlighting the need to ensure that everyone on the project team recognised the crucial role behaviours play in establishing the right conditions.  An awareness of each other’s motivations and preferences will significantly help mutual understanding and communication.  Nick was clear that it is also important to try and become aware of ones own unconscious biases and habitual behaviours which might disrupt relationships without being aware of our impact on others in the team.

Highways England (HE) have therefore commissioned the development of a Behavioural Maturity Framework which has then been adopted by the contractors and other suppliers working on the current framework which identifies 8 key desirable behaviours.  These are as follows:

  • Support each other
  • Trust and respect
  • Challenge
  • Issue resolution and decision making
  • Innovation and continual improvement
  • Engagement
  • Accountability
  • Best person and organisation

A number of facilitators from various parts of the supply chain have been trained as facilitators in the collaborative model and it is now being rolled out on all new HE projects.  This maturity framework will now underpin the approach that HE projects in the current framework.  The benefits that they are seeking in using this approach include:

  • Improved project delivery
  • Creative problem solving
  • Improved health, safety and welfare
  • Greater diversity
  • Better customer service

Nick expressed the view that the provisions for collaborative working need to be embedded in the contracts so that all parties recognise the need to embrace the required working practices from the start. He also believes quite strongly that the client must also provide leadership in this are and be held to account to demonstrate the same standards of behaviour.

In the second part of the session, Matt Stacey provided an illuminating case study based on the joint venture team of BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and Volker (BMV)to deliver the refurbishment of the Oldbury Viaduct on the M5 near Birmingham. His opening point was that in his experience, the construction industry is full of bright capable people who can do quite well as individuals, but when they the work together as a genuine team, can be brilliant. One of the key attributes to achieving success however is the ability to stay calm, take time to think, and listen.

He explained that on the M5 Oldbury project, the team went straight into collaborative planning mode the day after the contract was awarded, spending a full day in a workshop designed to establish a clear objective for the team and then to discuss and agree a set of common values.  This approach sits in stark contrast to most construction teams who tend to use this time to focus on technical and organisational issues, without ever taking the time to work out how the team will actually work together.

Matt recognises that most engineers are ‘a binary bunch’ preferring to see issues as ‘black or white’ or ‘on or off’.  It therefore takes leadership and direction to keep everyone focused on the need to develop and sustain the positive ideas and approaches agreed at the start of the programme.  Matt listed a number of actions they had found to be useful.

  • Get the right support from within and outside the organisation.
  • Everyone receives some form of collaborative training.
  • Objectives and values are embedded.
  • Use psychometrics such as ‘SDI’ or ‘Insights’ to improve communication.
  • Work at understanding the human factors.
  • Project improvement team established by the managers working on the project.

One powerful example is a decision made by the site management team to rebrand the delivery team, redesigning the BMV logo to say ‘M5 Oldbury’. The purpose is to ensure that everyone on the team including client, sub consultants and sub contractors, all feel part of a single team.

As with most discussions on the topic of collaboration, there was a question from the floor as to whether the approach is difficult to justify to a commercial director not connected with the project. In the discussion that followed, it became clear that Highways England see a strong commercial driver to use this approach on that scheme as the scope of the works required will not be known until they start to remove the old road surface.  They believe that by taking a one team approach they will get a better result than by trying to use an old style transactional approach. Another observation from the floor was that that the real financial benefit of investing in collaboration was the ability to make quick decisions which tended to speed up project delivery.

Other questions led to the observation that such arrangements really start to generate innovative time saving solutions when the second and third tier of specialist contractors are also required to become part of the collaborative team.

Asked how the collaborative culture could be sustained, Matt highlighted the need for initial training for as many people engaged in the process as possible followed up with regular ‘check in’ workshops to understand how the processes were being applied.  It was important to resist the temptation to revert to adversarial position when problems started to arise.

It was also observed in the discussion that there was a growing level of maturity in the wider industry, particularly in the infrastructure sector as clients, consultants and contractors were learning both of the benefits of collaborative working and more importantly the process and skills to actually deliver.

This was a great round table session with many useful takeaways. The key point that stands out is the need to put the time in early. The project needs to start with some slow thinking so that it can build sustainable momentum providing a successful outcome, as well as being an enjoyable and professionally rewarding experience.

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