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Masterclass Partnering and team development

Dr James Barlow, senior fellow at the University of Sussex Science and Technology Policy Research Unit, explains.

'Partnering' is a label used for a variety of innovative approaches to managing relationships in construction.

The main aim is to move beyond the limitations of traditional project relationships in which there is little or no integration of the different members of a project 'team'. Under this scenario it was common for one party to attempt to improve its cash flows and profit margins at the expense of another.

Contrary to some perceptions, partnering is not a new form of contract nor a new way of relating to people.

It is a different way of structuring business relationships which has a profound impact on both contracts and the ways people work together.

Most ideas of partnering in construction are drawn from manufacturing industries such as vehicles, food, aerospace and electronics. Rather than constantly putting out tenders and choosing different suppliers on the basis of lowest price, these industries have entered into long term and relatively informal agreements with a few suppliers.

Commercial pressure is maintained by benchmarking supplier performance on a number of fronts, with agreed targets for improvements.

Suppliers work with the client to achieve these improvements over time and as a result all parties deliver lower costs and improved quality without squeezing each other's profits.

The steady margins and continual workload allow suppliers to invest in improved plant, products and processes and a virtuous circle of improvement is established.

In the construction industry three models of partnering have been established: long term agreements between clients and contractors, long term agreements between main contractors and members of their supply chain and post-contract project-specific partnering.

The first two models are very much along the lines of partnering in the manufacturing sector as described above. Under the last model a main contractor introduces the ideals and practices of partnering into a project team that has been assembled in a traditional way by holding a 'partnering workshop'.

The Construction Best Practice Programme: The Movement for Innovation: Construction Round Table:

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