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Future Engineer | Talking behaviour

Collaboration meeting

Discussions on collaboration are being taken to a new level in the roads sector – raising issues about individual behaviour in project teams. It can be a difficult subject, but what are imporatant are the conversations and the language used.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Whether it was George Bernard Shaw or someone else that first said this – several could claim it – the meaning is typical of problems that infrastructure project teams are trying to overcome.

In the highways sector, a new initiative is taking hold; one that is getting people to talk about the human behaviour that causes collaboration between companies to succeed, or go wrong. It is not about office sharing or team-building exercises, or any other procedure designed to foster good working relationships. It is not about personalities or motivation either.

Those that have experienced the Improving Behaviour Improving Performance (IBIP) programme tend to have their own unique take on it. But what keeps coming up, is the importance of having open and honest conversations about what the good and the bad behaviour of collaboration look like.

Amanda Crouch

Amanda Crouch

JCP Consultancy behavioural specialist Amanda Crouch

The talk is of people taking responsibility for the way they behave in a project team, and building descriptions of particular behaviours in specific circumstances. As a result a whole new lexicon is taking shape – a ”language” of collaborative behaviour.

“There is real value in having a straightforward explanation to help people understand why behaviours, such as the positive or negative tone they adopt, are important,” says Bam Nuttall highways divisional director, Matt Stacey. “In the past we have often hoped too much that people would figure all this out for themselves.”

Stacey is also a board member of Bam Nuttall Morgan Sindall Joint Venture, which holds a place on the major projects lot of Highways England’s Collaborative Delivery Framework.

IBIP is being developed as an ”industry-wide” initiative. Highways England is leading it initially, but in partnership with its supply chain. A number of companies on the framework are training up employees as facilitators to deliver IBIP training to project teams that their firms are not involved in. So far, more than 1,000 people have taken part in IBIP workshops at around 30 different Highways England projects.

Vital for success

Increasingly, the way people interact is being seen as vital to the success of some big infrastructure programmes. Highways England is delivering a £15.2bn investment in the motorway and trunk road network over five years. Spending on road improvement projects will ramp up to around £3.5bn annually by 2020 – a four fold increase on workloads that suppliers enjoyed before Highways England came into existence in April last year.

At around that time, Highways England established an engagement council with a community of more than of 70 of its suppliers. The council came up with five priorities for success. Embedding collaborative behaviours throughout the supply chain was one (along with defining good value and performance; best practice in planning to increase productivity; incentivising and supporting innovation; and building capability and capacity).

“It’s clear to us that better outcomes result where projects are truly collaborative,” says Highways England lead on IBIP Tracey Collingwood. ”We’ve invested in lean and used different types of contracts and processes, but productivity has not materially improved across our industry for a generation.

Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff technical director and IBIP leader Andrew Jones

“However, we also have evidence of a direct correlation between collaboration and project performance, which is why we’re focusing on collaborative behaviours.”

Individuals from companies on the framework – a collective part of industry that will deliver around £5bn of road projects – have volunteered to drive improvement in each prioritised subject.

“Having seen what needs to be delivered over the next four to five years, it’s clear that as an industry, we cannot carry on as before,” says WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff technical director and IBIP leader Andrew Jones.

“Collaboration is commonly described simply as companies or organisations working together with a common objective, but it needs more than that if it’s going to work. We all know it can get tough when projects don’t go well or problems occur. What’s needed, to prevent delays or disputes, is the ability to have honest and productive conversations when things get difficult.”

Individuals and companies pushing the IBIP message are being assisted by a team from JCP Consultancy led by behavioural specialist Amanda Crouch. “The industry has picked out eight key collaborative behaviours that are needed to make projects successful. We’ve helped them put these into behavioural language,” says Crouch.

There are eight headings or categories – including engagement, accountability, trust and respect. From these, multiple different descriptions of what that behaviour looks like when it is “damaging”, “contributing” or “leading” towards success have been determined. 

Enter the matrix

The resulting matrix has been called the Behavioural Maturity Framework. At project level, anonymous surveys are gathering views of all team members’ “experience” of the different key behaviours. The data gathered, says Crouch, is then being used to give people an understanding of where they are at with “behavioural maturity”.

“The subsequent workshops are designed to show which different behaviours are having a positive or negative impact, and to allow people to then have important honest conversations about these actions, or inactions, based on anonymously gathered views,” says Crouch.

Jeremy Wray

Jeremy Wray

Mouchel managing director for highways and transport Jeremy Wray.

For example, she says, quicker decision making comes from people relying more on face to face discussions and less on emails. The resulting more rapid resolution of issues stops people making assumptions.

“Face to face meetings and direct communication prevent time being wasted by stopping people from going off in their own direction with critical tasks. All of these things are important for helping things to be done more effectively, with a big impact on cost and delivery,” says Crouch.

Darren Griffin is a lead bid manager for Osborne – a contractor on Lot 2 of the collabotative delivery framework for schemes worth up to £25M. He’s also now a trained IBIP facilitator. “The behaviours of the Behavioural Maturity Framework for discussion are not tightly prescribed. It’s about individual teams deciding what’s important rather than us dictating any answers,” he says.

“The surveys test what the focus of each workshop needs to be. From that point, with a nominated leader on site, we work out the necessary theme.”

Quizzed on levels of scepticism he’s encountered, Griffin replies: “not a lot. The behaviours have generally been well thought out. And project managers, they get it.

It’s going to take some time, possibly a generation, to embed completely across industry and deeply through the supply chain. 

Mouchel managing director for highways and transport Jeremy Wray


“There is a tendency for people to revert back to talking about process because behaviour is more difficult to talk about. Workshop discussions often focus on how to talk about it. Trust and permission are important. People need to feel safe talking about it.”

Crouch gives a good example that she’s encountered when talking to one of Highways England’s project teams. “They recognised that they needed to better understand the time pressures each was experiencing and how these were affecting them personally,” she says.

“A team member has subsequently told me they have been having wider and more frequent conversations about people’s availability and key dates on other schemes, so getting a better appreciation of when the work peaks will arise. The result is better resourcing and the project team hitting its weekly completion targets.”

Not a “soft and fluffly” subject

Bam Nuttall’s Stacey adds: “It’s not a soft and fluffy subject. It’s about having the ability or skills to have the open and sometimes difficult conversations – getting people talking about behaviours.”

It’s also not just Highways England and its framework suppliers that are getting to grips with collaborative behaviours. Collingwood a number of major infrastructure providers are discussing ways of introducing them.

“We’re all now talking about this agenda together, about behaviours and their importance for delivery of programmes of projects. This is the hot topic for quite a few major clients within the infrastructure sector which are all facing the same challenges around delivery, efficiency and resources. And so there’s a lot of appetite for IBIP, for a concerted approach focused on collaborative behaviour,” says Collingwood.

Darren Griffin

Darren Griffin

Osbourne lead bid manager Darren Griffin.

The individual members of the IBIP group have also stated their intentions to spread the message by running their own in-house workshops.

“Connect Plus which is running the M25 DBFO contract has its own similar variation of IBIP,” says Darren Griffin. “We’re a Tier One supplier to Connect Plus and now we have got to bring our subcontractors into the same work on collaborative behaviours. The facilitating ideas are different but they’re aiming at the same principles.”

Mouchel managing director for highways and transport, Jeremy Wray, is also part of the IBIP group. Mouchel is on the Professional Services Lot of CDF and a member of Highways England’s Collaboration Board.

He says: “This subject of how to improve performance through genuine collaboration is taking on a lot of importance. We now have the Behavioural Maturity Framework as a bespoke model for raising awareness, which we’re intending to run internally and across other sectors.

“It develops a language in relation to collaborative behaviour – this is the real value of it. Once people get that vocabulary, they can have the open and honest conversations, with constructive comments about behaviour. But it’s just the start of a process that has to be repeated. It’s not just a tick-box exercise.

“We’re working project by project with teams already put together, which makes sense, but those teams will tend to get broken up. It’s going to take some time, possibly a generation, to embed completely across the industry and deeply through the supply chain.”


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