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Features - Business

Collaboration is greater than some new software and more meetings



 

Anna Etherington-Smith at the Clarkson Alliance, responds to Ian Conway, Director at ITC Concepts, and his article on collaboration.

‘Good communication results in collaboration’; ‘Advances in technology have led to greater collaboration’. These may well be sentences you have often seen in the long-running discussion of how construction can move from confrontation to collaboration. Good communication coupled with well-used technology is surely part of the puzzle, but is there a risk that the construction industry is falling back on these much-repeated refrains whilst overlooking the fact that collaboration requires a change in behaviour – from senior leadership and all the way through project teams?

In order to build a high performing team the leadership must unite the project team (as well as a potential host of external stakeholders) behind clear outcomes. If every member of the team can articulate the vision and purpose of the project then they are more likely to keep the bigger picture in mind when an unexpected challenge occurs.

Dealing with the unexpected is all part of working on a construction project: it is a challenge for every project lead to ensure that their team is prepared to manage these challenges as smoothly as possible. Understanding behaviours enables both the leader and the other members of the team to cultivate a supportive environment which then results in natural collaboration when things don’t go as planned. Clarkson Alliance have used the SCARF model which is a neuroscience-based model that helps people collaborate and motivate team members to play their part. It has helped our project managers gain an understanding of the behaviours of others on a project, and enables them to design interactions that minimise threats to others and so build a culture of trust, respect and fairness.

People are more likely to work at their highest level and with the greatest degree of effort and commitment if they are able to work to their strengths. By ensuring tasks are assigned to individuals based on their strengths everyone is given the opportunity to succeed, resulting in a positive working environment that leads to true collaboration. Another tool that Clarkson Alliance have used to great effect in recent years is the StrengthsFinder tool – which identifies particular skills that each member of a team can bring to a project. It is then up to the project lead to ensure that people are working to their strengths – for the good of the whole team. We must remember that projects are human endeavours and galvanising commitment can help to fulfil both the project’s outcomes and the individual’s potential.

Once a team is committed behind a shared outcome and individuals are equipped to work to their strengths then of course technology offers vital tools that can increase efficiency and speed up processes. It is important to remember, however, that the latest IT tools do not in and of themselves lead to real collaboration – where there is openness, trust and value in the expertise of others. An efficient and communicative team is not necessarily a high performing one, and unless the construction industry can overcome its reluctance to explore human behaviours and interactions it is hard to see how collaboration will become truly embedded.

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