Working together for better results

Architecture practices and engineering firms working together and collaborating effectively was the topic at a recent roundtable organised by Infrastructure Intelligence and supported by Deltek. Andy Walker reports.

More and more in the industry, the issue of working together and collaboration is being discussed and those present at this roundtable at the Gherkin in the City of London were keen to stress the benefits of joint working and explore ways of doing so more efficiently and effectively.

Who was present?


Chair: Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive, ACE

Mark Bagley, director, EPR Architects

Roger Hawkins, partner, Hawkins\Brown 

Tomas Neeson, managing partner, Cundall

Ashu Prabhu, partner, Pell Frischmann

Rahul Patalia, partner, Peter Brett Associates

Michele Pasca di Magliano, associate director, Zaha Hadid Architects

Blair Pringle, new business director, Deltek

Chris Duddridge, business director, Deltek

Andy Walker, editor, Infrastructure Intelligence

Diane Williams, business development manager, ACE

Natasha Levanti, contributing editor, Infrastructure Intelligence


Skills shortages

A crucial part of collaboration is having the skills within a team to work effectively together and on this issue, like so many others in the industry currently, the skills shortage was seen as a particular challenge.

In the aftermath of Brexit, Michele Pasca di Magliano from Zaha Hadid Architects was concerned about the access to skilled professionals. “We don’t want to lose the talent pool,” he said. “Working together in Europe is important for collaboration and we need access to that talent,” he said.

Pell Frischmann’s Ashu Prabhu thought the skills shortage was overplayed. “I’m not sure that there still is a skills shortage in the industry,” he said. “The question is whether we are generating a skills shortage from the universities because graduates aren’t going into engineering. The task is to make infrastructure a more palatable industry to go into. A lot of people that I trained with went into banking and management consultancy because the training that they got was equally applicable there and the financial rewards are greater. There’s a bit of a problem in that the industry needs to attract the best talent,” Prabhu said. 

Roger Hawkins of Hawkins\Brown agreed that the issue of skills was a crucial one for collaboration. “The skills shortage is not a tap that you can turn on and off when you need more people,” he said. “The benefit of bringing people in from around the world is the positive input that they bring to teams and projects and the quality and diversity of their thinking. Collaboration works better and we do better projects when we’ve got people from a diverse background all working together and sharing experiences. It’s a melting pot. Opening the doors allows much better things to happen and surely that international collaboration and sharing experiences is the goal we are aiming for,” Hawkins said.

Winning new work is often the starting point for collaboration and there was some discussion at the roundtable about the effect of skills shortages on winning new business. “With large scale infrastructure projects, by definition, there are not that many of them and therefore you don’t have large numbers of people experienced in working on them,” said Michele Pasca di Magliano. That narrowed the pool of talented professionals to pick from and could make it harder to collaborate but “Collaboration was part and parcel of working in construction and it is a given,” di Magliano said. “The world is more complicated than in the past. It’s no longer just one firm doing one thing so collaboration is essential,” he said.  

Working together

EPR Architects’ Mark Bagley agreed, though he said that his own profession was easier to work with than engineers. “We work on projects with other architects and it’s a much more collaborative process. We do collaborate with architects and engineers and it’s good to get teams working together but we also need to be aware that firms also have their own agendas and interests. It’s about personalities and individuals at the end of the day and as long as you can get like-minded people together who can work together then you’ve got a success. It’s all about relationships,” said Bagley.

Chris Duddridge from roundtable hosts Deltek said he was always impressed by the way that professionals in the sector worked together. “Within the consultancy, engineering and architecture sector you get a level of informality about the way that people work together,” he said. “You see firms assigning the right people to the right projects and with that there’s a feeling that you might not need formal structures,” Duddridge said.

Mark Bagley said that money and risk was often the driver as to whether and how collaboration takes place. “On big projects it’s financially driven. Not taking on risk is an issue and to move an infrastructure project forward you need someone to take on risk who is able to do so,” he said.

Nelson Ogunshakin from ACE agreed. “It’s all about risk management. Firms need to ask themselves ‘what am I big enough to take on board?’ and this will not suit every partner on a project,” he said.

Roger Hawkins said that in the end that risk fell back onto the engineer. “Architects take the lead in the early stages of designs but then the balance tips, through novation or whatever and then the engineers take over later.”

"Architects take the lead in the early stages of designs but then the balance tips, through novation or whatever, and then the engineers take over later."

Roger Hawkins, Hawkins/Brown 

Tomas Neeson of Cundall said that he thought that working in the UK was a different experience than working overseas as far as partnering and collaboration were concerned. “I find that there is a completely different approach in the UK than in other countries,” he said. “Overseas we work with our direct competitors but not in the UK. I don’t know of any scheme here where we are working in the way we do overseas,” Neeson said.

Rahul Patalia from Peter Brett Associates said he thought that architects worked better together: “Collaboration between architects is quite common and often a winning formula,” he said. “The client is looking for that diversity, creativity and complimentary thought process you tend to get with architects. Engineers are probably a bit more nervous about collaboration.”

What is true collaboration?

But what is true collaboration? Roger Hawkins said that it was more than just working alongside each other. “People work together all the time but collaboration goes one step beyond that. It’s actually a mutual respect and understanding of each other’s interests. The whole being is then greater than the sum of the parts. We see it in other sectors, housing for example where there may be three or four architects working with engineers, but what I see in infrastructure is rarely collaboration it’s more about team definition than working together,” said Hawkins.

Hawkins said that he thought that the way the industry works corporately was part of the reason for that. “The forms of procurement and contracts we use don’t really allow for collaboration. We need to discuss more how we can improve collaboration and make it better,” he said. “We have to look at the contractual side,” he said.

Ashu Prabhu agreed. “In terms of the barriers to collaboration, in order to get over contractual arrangements and professional indemnity issues there does need to be more coming together,” he said. “True collaboration is where different disciplines are able to bring their experience in difference areas to bear to improve the final product and we do need to look at contractual arrangements and also potentially project insurance,” said Prabhu. 

“If we are able to break down those barriers and actually make sure that the contract itself rewards the correct behaviours to encourage a better project, that would make a huge difference and remove some of the fear. If we can address at the very outset what will happen if things go wrong on a project then people will work a bit more freely. This in turn enables you to work more collaboratively,” he said.

Incentivising the team

So what about incentivisation? How can projects be set up so that those who work on them are encouraged to work more collaboratively? The role of the client was key.

“It’s down to the client, what they want and how they procure it,” said Mark Bagley. “By collaborating to achieve a cohesive project outcome you are incentivised to work together because then everyone benefits from success,” Bagley said. Ashu Prabhu agreed, saying: “The client is a kingpin in all this and sets the tone. Rewarding behaviours that don’t promote ‘gaming’ is also important.”

Roger Hawkins also agreed about the key role of the client. “The client is absolutely fundamental,” he said. It was also important for clients to take a long-term view, Hawkins said. “My favourite sector of work is the universities. They take a long-term view. They have politically sensitive stakeholders – governors, trustees, students, politicians, – but by being a ‘multi-headed’ client they are really engaged as a result. They are embedded in their communities and are often the biggest developer in town so they have a real stake in getting it right,” said Hawkins.

“If we can get that long-term thinking into clients’ minds then we will get better projects,” he said.

But how can clients be educated to adopt a more enlightened approach that can then lead to better collaboration? 

"We need to have a project officer for the project team and the client should sit in the office with the whole team and that way they see what is going on and how everyone works together."

Michele Pasca di Magliano, Zaha Hadid Architects

Michele Pasca di Magliano said clients needed to be more part of the project team, working alongside other professionals. “We need to have a project officer for the project team and they should sit in the office with the members of the project team. We should join forces and work together. The client should sit in the office with the team and that way they see what is going on and how everyone works together,” he said.

Nelson Ogunshakin said that architects and engineers had it within their power to bring about the changes they wanted to see with regard to clients. “Shouldn’t we be initiating this change in client culture and make it happen? We should not have to wait for the client,” he said.

Working in Europe

Concluding the roundtable, those present addressed the issue of Europe and discussed winning work there, the barriers to the market and also the effect of current market volatility.

Roger Hawkins highlighted some issues in the way that different nationalities approach regulations and legislation. “It’s a well-known statement that European legislation for Germans is to comply with, for French and Italians to ignore and for Brits to argue about! Notwithstanding that, I don’t see Europe as being particularly difficult to win work in Europe,” he said.

The advantages of having a diverse workforce were important in breaking down barriers in Europe. Chris Duddridge said: “Germans tend to buy from Germans so on a basic level the advantages of having a diverse workforce are there for all to see. This is the case for many professional firms,” he said.

The willingness or not of professionals to be mobile and work in Europe was also important according to Tomas Neeson. “It’s easy for Europeans to come here and live here and speak the language but on the whole the Brits don’t want to do that. Big US companies are more culturally set up to work overseas and send their staff and resources there. They commit more to the process,” he said.

“To collaborate effectively you have to have respect of each other’s culture and experience,” Roger Hawkins said. “You need dialogue and that is true collaboration. If you can work with local people and exchange and share experiences then everyone benefits.”

Mark Bagley said: “Having an office abroad is about having people who are from that country as they understand the local community and they understand the ground rules, the regulations the culture.”

Tomas Neeson said that his company approached working in Europe as a way to increase the talent they have available: “We have only opened offices based on people rather than location. In European cities we are accessing talent to bring into our business by being linked with graduate programmes. We are working there to access and broaden the talent pool. There are some fantastic engineers out there,” he said.

"We have only opened offices based on people rather than location. We work in Europe to access and broaden the talent pool. There are some fantastic engineers out there."

Tomas Neeson, Cundall

Most of those present were concerned about future market volatility, especially in the wake of Brexit. Ashu Prabhu said: “Investment coming in and being able to fund projects and the lack of certainty that investors will get a return on investment is a concern,” he said.

Volatility in politics also mattered said Michele Pasca di Magliano. “Politics affects our work. The world has become an unstable place. We work globally and you cannot escape global crisis,” he said.

Notwithstanding concerns about uncertainty and volatility, Tomas Neeson struck an optimistic note. “London will always be an investment magnet, it will always attract money, so I wouldn’t be too worried. Political uncertainty will delay the ability to make decisions but only delay them,” he said.

As always, the latest Infrastructure Intelligence roundtable saw a wide-ranging and thoughtful discussion. Summing up, Deltek’s Chris Duddridge said: “We always gain a real insight from these gatherings and from the breadth and depth of the conversation around the table. Listening to the experiences of people within the industry is crucial and sharing knowledge and experiences is the hallmark of collaboration and a healthy industry,” he said.

About the sponsor
Deltek is a leading global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for professional services firms and other project-and people-based businesses. For decades, they have delivered solutions and insights that empower their customers to unlock their business potential. 20,000 organisations and millions of users in over 80 countries around the world rely on Deltek to research and identify opportunities, win new business, recruit and develop talent, optimise resources, streamline operations and deliver more profitable projects. To find out more visit www.deltek.com.


If you would like to contact Andy Walker about this, or any other story, please email awalker@infrastructure-intelligence.com.