Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Smells like team spirit


Motivating people is one of the key skills for any manager. In construction, as in football, building a team is vital. The four finalists of this year's Civil Engineering Manager of the Year Award give their views on the best approach to give success.

Anyone that has ever worked on a civil engineering project, whether in the office or on site, will appreciate that working in a team where people co-operate with each other is probably the most important factor in the project's success.

Strange therefore that so few civil engineering managers are ever taught how best to generate this necessary spirit. Strange also that so many either hanker for training or dearly wish their boss would get some.

Or is it? Civil engineers are perhaps not alone. Take football, for example. Many a great player has carried his finely tuned footballing brain into management. Some succeed but the majority fail.

Those that succeed are usually credited for their excellent man management skills. Sir Alex Ferguson, for example, knows his Manchester United team inside out. He has a great tactical mind, but the fact that he knows and is able to motivate everyone from the first team to the youth intake is the key to his unrivalled success. England coach Kevin Keegan is another noted for his motivational skills.

No one would question Ruud Gullitt's footballing knowledge and insight when he's sitting in the commentary box. But poor results and a near player mutiny at Newcastle suggest he is not much of a man-manager.

Back in the real world of construction, things are little different. Graeme Stewart led BP Amoco's £60M Vapour Recovery Project. He is clear about the importance of devoting attention to the people on the job: 'Project management is no different to any other management job in one key aspect - managing people is what it's all about.'

Establishing an integrated project team is about creating the right balance within the team, and recognising that there is no magic solution to achieving it instantly, he explains.

'We all speak differently to someone we've known for 20 years than to someone we've just met. It takes time to build trust and rapport, and project managers need to make the time to establish and encourage the personal relationships needed to make integrated teams work.'

This extends beyond talking about business, as everyone has a wide range of interests and talents which can provide insights into what makes them tick.

Full responsibility and accountability and putting the right person in the right job means good managers need to support rather than interfere, he adds. Give people the right information to do their job and let everyone on the team know what's happening. 'Nothing is more divisive than knowledge hoarding,' he says.

Brain Coslett of Hyder Utilities agrees that, from his experience, building the £45M Ganol Water Treatment project in Wales, giving teams the knowledge to judge their performance is vital: 'Set goals that focus creative effort on results and give recognition for real accomplishment. Teams equipped with appropriate skills can achieve surprising results if they are helped to reach out for them.'

He also emphasises that nothing should be buried or put aside when it comes to personal relationships. 'Confront problems,' he urges.

Rodney Self, who heads up the £250M Karachi Water Supply Scheme for Mott MacDonald International, points out that your approach must vary depending on the type of project and culture in which you work.

But he insists there are ideals: 'Manage with as few people as you can. Respect all staff and employees and let your respect show without undue familiarity.'

Having worked for many years in Pakistan and many other parts of the globe before that, Self says cultural differences often make it hard to stick to these ideals and make them work. But he is sure that it is worthwhile if you can.

Michael Fordham, who was in charge of Thames Water's £165M East London sewage sludge incineration project, also focuses on core skills to achieve successful teamwork.

'Honesty, integrity and trust are important values that should underpin the style and culture of any team,' he insists. 'One should lead by example and have the courage of one's convictions.'

Of course, in civil engineering, as in football, managers are only as good as their results. But while football managers often live on their wits and their natural skills, civil engineers can at least seek out some decent training if they are struggling with a particular man management issue.

That said, if your chairman tells the world that you have his full and unconditional support, worry - it may be too late.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.