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NCE 100 Debate | Collaboration

Light bulbs cropped

Collaboration is, rightly, a much used word in the civil engineering profession. Many in the industry claim to be collaborative – either in the way they procure new projects or the way they behave among their peers. But how do you really know who is actually behaving in the right way?

In the first of New Civil Engineer’s NCE100 masterclass series, we have teamed up with NCE100 Collaborative Firm of the Year Arup, to bring together a mix of consultant, contractor and client to discuss collaboration in the industry at a round table debate.

Collaboration starts with the client

“Collaboration will only work when all the parties are aligned to the same vision and are passionate and driving it,” said Skanska UK executive vice president Thomas Faulkner.

“If you don’t have the client in that position, you’re on the back foot from day one and it doesn’t matter how much the supply chain believes in it, it will only work when all the parties are working together. And that starts from the client, naturally,” he said.

Arup board director and UKMEA head of infrastructure Peter Chamley agreed, and said the industry had already come a long way in the past 30 years from “the adversarial days when contract conditions were designed to promote a fight”.

Transport for London programme director Miles Ashley said he thought that mistrust between the client and the supply chain was the barrier to collaboration.

Miles ashley b&w

Miles ashley b&w

Ashley: Incentives work on long term projects

“There is nothing new to invent here. It’s not rocket science. There are many really good examples of the industry defining outcomes involving the supply chain in an integrated way, early.”

Providing strong leadership would “take back some risk” and ensure that the team provided value for the infrastructure owner, but also for the suppliers too.

Ashley added that “latitude is missing It’s not what we have to do, but how we make that transition to where we are to where we all know we’ve got to be”.

Collaboration is all about trust  

True collaboration is about trust “and about us,” added Wright. “It’s about whether or not we can trust each other sufficiently to enter into an agreement that is construed by contract, but results in being able to trust each other enough to deliver the job for each other’s mutual benefit. It’s not about the form of contract, it’s about the people”.

Wright argued that building relationships from the onset with the help of professionals, worked well in theory. “However, what we normally do is have a few workshops at the beginning where we all agree this is great and we are all collaborating wonderfully. We sign the charter and nail it on the back on the door and go away and do our own thing.”


Alex kirby, simon wright and mike savill cropped

Alex kirby, simon wright and mike savill cropped

Wright: Building trust is vitally important

And then we wonder why it has all gone wrong, added Wright. “It’s because we stop investing in the relationships too early. We must get better at establishing and building trust continually, even when things are going well. When things are going badly, we then panic and throw masses of resources and fire loads of project managers”.

“Why are we letting it go wrong in the first place?” he asked.

Sustaining collaborative behaviour

High Speed 2 director of built environment Kate Hall thought that behavioural change worked in the longer term. “Collaboration is a behaviour. Skills and education you can learn, but to get someone to do something different is a behavioural change. The more we understand about how we affect change in behaviours as opposed to upskill, will make a difference”.


Kate hall b&w

Kate hall b&w

Hall: Behavioural change takes time

It is about the longevity of the relationship between the parties that made working collaboratively easier, said Arup director and UKMEA infrastructure commercial leader David Van Bruggen. “Where one contractor and one consultant have worked together for a number of years on different projects, they seem to work better than those who have come together. We are probably too transient in many of our relationships, and that isn’t helping.”

Commercial tension versus good collaboration

Heathrow Airport Ltd infrastructure procurement director David Ferroussat said “the best project he has worked on” was the airport’s Terminal 5 with the T5 agreement. “All the commercial tension was taken away as you had already agreed what the overall profit was upfront. People just got on as professionals to deliver the project. We just got on and did professional collaboration, not just collaboration. It was the contract that drove the behaviour”.

Arup director and Tim Chapman director and London infrastructure leader said it depended on the type of contract and the business model you were working to. “If you open a week early, the revenue is so high it doesn’t matter, and you are quids in as the client”.

Crossrail’s Wright added: “The London Olympics was an excellent example of collaboration working extremely well. If collaboration is about motivating people to give their best performance, then there was no better opportunity than the Olympics. Lots of people thought we are going to make this work, we are going to motivate our best people and provide a real motivational force and positive energy and prove to everyone that we can deliver. And we all did that”.


The future | Alliancing and beyond

However this was not how they always approached jobs, especially smaller ordinary jobs. “That motivational factor of getting up in the morning and wanting to give it your best is not always there. We are ordinary too often. Becoming the exception is rare,” Wright added.

“The tension is the hole in the boat” suggested Costain head of rail, High Speed 2 Lee Davies. “The team who says: ‘it’s not my end’ isn’t collaborative. The team who says: ‘there is hole in our boat and we’re all going to fix it’, is a collaborative team”.

Wright thought it all went wrong when people felt under commercial pressure. “Tensions rise and all the good behaviour we used to see starts to come under a lot of tension.” He argued that managers asked if they are to apply the contract or collaborate “and we want them to do both”.

“There is a contract and we want them to apply it, but we want it done in a collaborative way”.

Incentivising collaboration

UK Power Networks director capital programme and procurement Nirmal Kotecha said incentivisation could aid collaboration, especially on projects with one failing partner “by having a incentivising mechanism, it incentivises all the other people to bail that person out”.

Wright and Ashley agreed that this would work over longer term projects, not the shorter one-off “major pop- up” programmes such as Crossrail where there was little repeated work. “There is more opportunity to leverage benefits to longer term programmes of work” added Wright.

A single aim improves collaboration

Skanska’s Faulkner added that if businesses could learn from what the industry has achieved in improvements to health and safety through collaboration then this could be used across other aspects of the industry.

“We found it was driven by leadership from clients, contractual models being more collaborative, and then the supply chain responding.

“And it’s easy for us to respond to health and safety collaboration because it’s human nature. If we can embrace what can be learnt from that collaboration across the industry, in innovation, diversity and inclusion, we will end doing a much higher level of collaboration.”

Ashley said that having a clean aligned goal made collaboration easier. “If collaboration is about having the same goal, safety is the best example. And the Olympics, as there was a timing goal. It’s harder with other projects.”

But safety is an easy win. Crossrail’s Wright asked how the industry could bring together a commercial collaboration where you do not lose commercial tension, but also collaboration does not become such a big issue that it “starts to defeat the purposes of delivering the job”.

What makes a collaborative firm?

“It’s having a culture of wanting to help” said High Speed 2’s Hall. “Organisations that successfully collaborate when the chips are down, foster a culture of inquisitive minds and a willingness to help . And if you have that within your organisation, you don’t need to tell them it’s called collaboration”.


Arup’s culture of collaboration

Mace director major programmes and infrastructure Ann-Marie Morrison agreed and said it was about the tools to define the behaviour and that you needed to live by. “If someone was a brilliant engineer, but not conforming to those behaviours, then such decisions would need to be made”.

WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff development director and incoming ICE Vice president Rachel Skinner added that fundamentally, teams are made up of many different types of people and although some were naturally very good at communicating, some people would ask for help, while others wouldn’t.

“The trick is to find a way to harness different people, whether it’s a whole company, or on a particular project”.

Watch New Civil’s Engineer’s editor Mark Hansford talk to Arup’s Tim Chapman about why collaboration is important. 

Entries for the NCE100 Awards 2017 are now open. Click here for more information

At the table

Miles Ashley  
Programme director construction, TFL

Peter Chamley
Board director, global and UKMEA head of infrastructure, Arup

Tim Chapman
Director, London infrastructure leader, Arup

Lee Davies
Head of rail High Speed 2, Costain

Thomas Faulkner
Executive vice president, Skanska UK

David Ferroussat
Infrastructure procurement director, Heathrow

Kate Hall
Director of built environment, High Speed 2

Mark Hansford
Editor, New Civil Engineer

Alex Kirby
Senior advisor R2, Gatwick Airport

Nirmal Kotecha
Director capital programme and procurement, UK Power Networks

Ann-Marie Morrison
Director major programmes and infrastructure, Mace

Mike Savill
Project director, Mott Macdonald

Rachel Skinner
Director development and incoming ICE Vice president, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff

David Van Bruggen
Director, UKMEA infrastructure commercial leader, Arup

Simon Wright
Programme director, Crossrail

In association with

Arup logo final

Arup logo final

Readers' comments (1)

  • The article rightly puts a lot of emphasis on trust and changing behaviours. These barriers are not always easy to overcome. In fact, we recently asked some senior leaders in the industry how they had overcome the obstacles to collaborative working and their answers were insightful. You can hear them here:
    Jerry Bailey, JCP Consultancy Ltd

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