Collaboration - eleven top tips for success

A significant shift towards collaboration is gathering momentum in the UK construction industry.  It’s no longer the case that one organisation can do it all and go it alone. 

Clients are seeking innovative ideas, new and cost-efficient and effective solutions aimed at achieving best value for all stakeholders – customers, clients, contractors, sub-contractors, designers, other equipment manufacturers, architects, commercial consultancies, SMEs and other key stakeholders. 

We need to be more efficient, eliminate waste, manage innovation where it adds value and deploy the right people onto the right projects with the right clients.  Research has proved that clients do get the projects they deserve.  

Sion Edwards, Currie & Brown‘s regional director and I have used our combined 50 years' experience in the industry to come up with the following eleven top tips for clients and supply chain partners to consider when contemplating collaboration.

1. If you’re happy with the status quo, don’t even contemplate collaboration with other organisations. Collaboration is a catalyst for the creation of new value and creates an opportunity for an organisation to work outside its normal comfort zone. It also creates an opportunity to share lessons learnt and best practice and to share experience and expertise, as well as providing an opportunity to create a culture where innovation is encouraged and knowledge is shared. Collaborative working provides the basis to create value that is both new and sustainable, which could not normally be achieved by the organisation working independently.

2. Define a compelling future; deliver clarity on what you want. Successful collaboration must be based on aligned business objectives and desired outcomes. The compelling future - both of the joint organisation and of the individual organisations - must be clear from the outset. The vision must be articulated in a way that everyone can buy into it.

3. Align processes, ensure a ‘one-way’ approach. Processes must be aligned. Within a collaborative environment there must be integrated risk management processes as well as an aligned governance process. This collaboration may also be based on shared technology platforms such as SharePoint.  You don’t want five parallel ‘swimming lanes’; you want everyone in the same rowing boat, all pulling in the same direction.  This is how you achieve an efficient and streamlined project.

4. Conduct a readiness review to establish that you are ready to collaborate. The ingredients of a successful collaborative arrangement are many, but strong collaborative leadership and the appropriate collaborative culture with the organisation are fundamental. Before collaboration conduct an internal assessment, test and challenge cultures and behaviours, identify behavioural skills gaps and establish a collaborative training programme to deal with the gap.  Collaborative leadership must come from the top and permeate throughout an organisation.  The ‘leadership shadow’ is essential to the speed of success. Treat it as a ‘change programme’.

5. Document the plan. Includethe partnering integration plan, a relationship managementplan.This document encompasses the ‘rules and tools’ for collaboration. It will support the establishment of the relationship as well as its performance and the methodologies around value creation as well as the exit strategy. It will facilitate the relationship between organisations; will clearly identify the compelling vision; and grow (or shrink) and change as the working business relationship changes.

6. Measure collaborative performance against your critical success factors. Establish critical success factors (CSFs) which will be used to determine the success of the collaboration. Learning and continuous improvement is the bloodline of a collaborative relationship. CSFs can generally be compartmentalised in five key areas: the environment, the behaviours, the capability, the beliefs and the identity. These ‘logical levels’ should be tested on a regular basis with the associated knowledge captured and disseminated.  Knowledge sharing is critical.  Openness and transparency are key.  

7. Ensure full alignment of commercial objectives. Gaining complete alignment to the objectives of all participating parties is fundamental and a prerequisite.  Careful consideration must be given to the commercial and contractual conditions (including incentivisation, risk and value management).  Consideration must also be given to aligning the system’s architecture, data and its security, ethics and behaviours. 

8. Recognise that behaviours are key. Successful collaboration is a function of behavioural relationships. ‘Working above the line’ is essential - blame, ‘can’t do’, ‘not my job’ and general victim behaviour have no place in a collaborative arrangement. Produce a charter which clearly identifies acceptable behaviours (above the line), non-acceptable behaviours and the exit strategy for those who cannot or will not comply.  Setting the right tone, culture and values prior to embarking on the journey will help enormously.

9. Select your partnering integrators, the core implementation team. These individuals are the eyes and ears of the collaborative culture. They are the coaches and ambassadors for successful change and collaboration.  They are those who, on a daily basis, interact with their peers; individuals from the top to the bottom of the organisation who support the partnering ethos and code.  Carefully select these ‘change agents’ to ensure success.  They will create the catalysts for things to happen and quickly.  If you get it wrong it can be very divisive. 

10. Promote open and transparent communication with all. An innovative collaborative culture requires open and transparent two-way communication. The collaborative communication strategy will identify the key stakeholders and the most appropriate means to convey the journey from planning to handover/handback stage. This strategy will include the plan for the initial roll-out, where documentation can be found and how regular updates against the CSFs will be conveyed.  

11. Create the steering group. This group will provide the leadership and governance for the collaboration. They will work hand-in-hand with the partnering integrators. They will drive the knowledge sharing and the continuous improvement.  They will also monitor progress success against the CSFs and challenge whether the appropriate behaviours are being maintained. They will address any discourse and jointly agree the exit.

Drew Ritchie is Currie & Brown’s UK chief operating officer