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Optimising collaborative working in the construction industry

The construction industry is notoriously fragmented. Relationships between the client, design team, engineers, consultants, contractors, subcontractors and operatives can have a massive impact on the success of a project. However, fraught relationships mean that the industry sees its fair share of underperformance and waste, while a lack of communication can result in extra expense, and innovation being lost as ideas travel down the pipeline.

When the project is handed over from the design team to engineers, to contractors and subcontractors, a direct chain of information is created. A single weak link – poor communication or relationship between two teams – can disrupt the integrity of the project. A lack of communication, stemming from the absence of shared principles and interests, results in wastage, mistakes, and conflict as certain parties inevitably feel undermined.

Collaborative working seems to be the new buzz word in the industry, but what are organisations really doing to address the situation?

We can clearly see that the ‘norm’ is just not good enough; that the current way of working has led to a blame culture between disciplines and average performance across the board.

Greater emphasis on collaborative working seems to be the obvious answer. Yet, the impression remains within a significant proportion of the industry that collaboration will be expensive and time consuming.

As a main contractor, we consider ourselves to be in an integral position to champion collaborative working, to encourage two-way communication between all parties involved in a project. It is in the best interests of all the teams involved to collaborate, to make sure that their priorities are shared by all the other teams working on the project. With advances in technology, it is also getting easier and more practical to introduce collaboration into industry practices.

Throughout ITC’s history, we have tried to develop a collaborative culture, both internally with our staff teams, and by building good working relationships with professional teams and our supply chain.

One way to improve relationships and establish priorities is to involve all the relevant teams from the get-go. Setting up distinct lines of communication and authority from the off will promote collaboration, as will establishing protocols for sharing information and standards. Creating benchmarks, giving feedback and target setting throughout the project also helps teams to bear in mind the agreed standards for the project.

At ITC, we have found that sites work best when everyone on them is looking out for each other, regardless of whether they are our operatives or subcontractors. We believe two-way communication helps to create a positive working environment and have systems in place to facilitate this.

Many of the steps that need to be taken are about changing attitudes and encouraging relationships, including simple initiatives like team meetings and workshops. It is beneficial for all the teams involved if the environment that is created is one of learning and sharing information. Actions such as holding regular collaborative working workshops with subcontractors can help foster the idea of collaboration and result in a very positive impact on site.

Innovations in technology has made collaboration so much easier. The introduction of email was ground-breaking at the time. Today, project management systems that can be updated in real time and prevent information silos and BIM modelling are paving the way for even better communication flow. Recent developments in technology have allowed companies such as ours to introduce a mobile quality management app to site, allowing operatives and subcontractors to monitor and manage snagging in a cohesive and efficient way.

Most of all collaborative working requires all teams to be willing; the best way to encourage this is to change the perception of collaborative working within the industry. More industry leaders need to demonstrate their faith in collaborative working, and implement it in their projects.

At ITC, we see collaboration as the future of the construction industry. It is ingrained in our management system. Time and time again we have seen the benefits of clear communication, using technology to work collaboratively, and encouraging operatives to look after each other on site. For us collaborative working has meant safer sites, more effective problem-solving and a better relationship with clients and subcontractors.

Collaborative working means working smarter, not harder.

Article submitted by Ian Conway, Director of refurbishment and fit out specialists ITC Concepts


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