Collaborative Working Mentors March Reviewing – The Characteristics of Awards Winners

Constructing Excellence

On the 17th of March, we had a Constructing Excellence Collaborative Mentors meeting at which we heard from the 2021 National Award Winner and Highly Commended runner up in the Integration and Collaborative Working category (both regional winners in their own right). Iain Garfield of Newcastle University spoke about the Dame Margaret Barbour Building (highly commended) before Lee Harrison from Hoare Lee easily demonstrated to us why the Dragon Heart Hospital project (Cardiff) had been voted winner.  You can find more about these different but exceptional projects on the CE website, but this article is all about the similarities rather than the differences.

As mentors we are constantly seeking to understand what it is that enables integrated collaborative working to excel and we were grateful to both our speaks for spending as much time discussing the issues and problems with us as they did on identifying the successes and outcomes. As a result, we were able to identify 14 traits which underpinned this exceptional performance; I expect you might like to know what they are!

Clarity of purpose

The identification of needs was the first clear point. Engaging with the client and other stakeholders including end users, to capture and share what is necessary and why, was considered essential in achieving success. This engagement continuing throughout the project duration with the needs being reiterated to ensure they remain the focus of attention.

Not that this is simply an exercise of giving the client what they say they want or are used to having. The requirement to challenge norms was identified to ensure that what can be achieved will provide most benefit and any [perceived or otherwise] compromise/derogation in delivering within the constraints is warranted by the agreed priorities.

Effective decision making

Early involvement of the whole team was a given, as were open methods of agreeing and monitoring progress.  Where in some collaborative projects the desire to ensure all parties are given the same opportunity to contribute can lead to slow decision making, sometimes revisiting decision already made, this was not the case in these projects. It was clear they benefitted from a rapid and structured decision-making process that ensured everyone was clear when a decision was to be made and that once through the decision gate it would not be revisited.

Achieving commitment

There was a lot of discussion about the commitment of individuals and organisations. Some felt that responding to crisis was a primary reason for this. Certainly, one of the projects was a direct result of crisis (Covid 19 pandemic) and the other had experienced the horror (for all) of the lead contractor going into liquidation. But in the latter case it was felt, both initially and during the restart, that it was the nature of being a repeat client with an established supply base that was key to performance. Wider discussion suggested that being committed to the use of the project, or to the change it seeks to create, can provide sufficient inspiration. Whatever the reason, we were all happy to agree that commitment of the whole team to the project and outcomes is a critical factor in achieving exceptional performance.

A couple of further points emerged in respect of commitment. Knowing you are going to be paid regularly and on time, rather than eventually and only after a fight, is a huge contributor to maintaining commitment.  This is supported by clarity in liabilities, especially if a limitation on liability is provided, even if this is simply because you know that you are doing something temporary that will subsequently be dismantled to close your liability out.

Trust the people

Commitment is also symbiotic with leadership. Achieving commitment requires leadership from those who are commissioning, appointing and managing, but once commitment is achieved leaders emerge at all levels.  Collaboration is all about people and once people are inspired, they will not only take responsibility for their own actions, they will take it upon themselves to ensure other do not upset the apple cart. There are always new arrivals to a project whose behaviour can be at odds with the culture of a highly committed and motivated team, but we heard how full collaboration is self-policing and the incumbents will take it upon themselves to induct these new arrivals encouraging them to moderate their behaviour until they too become advocates and often firm friends.

I must say as I listened to Lee in particular, I was reminded as I’m sure many others would have been, of the experience of being part of a truly high performing team and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, indeed as they are now as I write this, and I was grateful for the reminder that at its best collaboration is intensely personal and a lasting experience; thank you Iain and Lee.