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Team spirit

Halcrow - Halcrow's friendly atmosphere, the company believes, is in large part due to a philosophy of teamworking, both internally and with its clients. And it is working hard to maintain that culture.

Teamworking is slowly becoming the norm in construction rather than the exception, with civil engineers working on multi-disciplinary projects alongside experts in different fields, or sharing information across national boundaries as part of their every day working lives.

But Mandy Clarke, HR director at multi-disciplinary consultant Halcrow, says a team approach is not just about the way a company works internally. 'It's about working with our partners and clients, ' she adds. 'We get better solutions, do better work, deliver a better service and our staff have a much more enjoyable time if we are working together as a team.'

Halcrow has a set of core values that encourages a team working approach, and the company's stated codes of behaviour include treating everyone with respect, trust and dignity. Internally, says Clarke, this results in a friendly atmosphere in which everyone's input is welcome whatever their level in the company. Externally, it is an approach that fits well with many clients, particularly in the public sector.

'Being open and honest is very important to us, ' says Clarke.

Feedback we get from surveying our clients and from external audits says that they think we are honest and don't try to pull the wool over people's eyes.

'We find that for many of our clients it's not just about technical ability, it's about the people element. They're almost taking the technical ability as a given and are looking more at questions like 'are you a company we want to work with?' ' In fact the company also prides itself on its technical expertise, claiming that 'whatever the challenge there's a Halcrow person, somewhere in the world, who has the solution'. An internal intranet enables anyone in the company to seek out the specialist skills they might need simply by posting a question on a message board or scanning the CVs of all 4,200 employees.

But at interview new recruits are just as likely to be tested on their interpersonal and communication skills as their design abilities.

'It's a difficult balance because managers will usually have a specific technical requirement for a new team member, so those technical skills are very important, ' says Clarke. 'But equally important are excellent communication skills and an understanding of how people are going to fit in a team and appear to a client.'

The company has been growing very rapidly, from 3,700 staff last year to 4,600 now, and expects to employ 6,000 by 2010.

Clarke is aware that with rapid growth there is always the danger of the values and culture being diluted, and says Halcrow's senior management is committed to making sure this does not happen.

'The culture has to be worked at, and we must have the internal infrastructure to support that. As we get bigger it's more and more important that we have proper communications so people always have formal meetings and opportunities to chat and meet with people, ' she says.

Those formal and informal opportunities have been provided this year by a series of 'summits' under the banner 'Act Now'.

These summits allow staff to become 'change leaders' empowered to identify opportunities for improving the business at a local level, with the individual actions combining to create major change in the entire company.

Participants have come from throughout Halcrow - at every level of seniority and representing all of the regions in which the company operates, from the UK to the Middle East, Far East, USA and Asia. Titles and hierarchies go out of the window as delegates' badges simply identify their names and the office they work in.

Most activities are carried out in teams, and more often than not the teams are made up of people who do not usually work together.

Over a three day period the 150 delegates pick apart the company's core values to understand what they really mean on a day to day basis - challenging them where necessary - then start to identify ways in which they can go back to their local offices and improve the business.

The core values of openness and honesty are much in evidence as participants challenge board directors and financial performance is laid bare. But, says Clarke, the clearest evidence of Halcrow's commitment to these values is the presence of key clients at the events. 'How many companies would do that - invite clients to something that's about improving the culture?' she asks.

'We recognise that our clients can give us useful feedback, and that we don't have all the answers.'

Many of Halcrow's contracts are long term arrangements - such as seven or 10 year framework agreements with bodies like the Environment Agency and local and national governments throughout the world.

'They are looking for us to improve, but they want feedback as well, ' explains Clarke. 'If you are going to be working together for seven years or more, it's so important to have that openness and to be able to give each other feedback.'

The flip side of having such a strong set of business principles is that every now and then they will come up against a client that does not share the same values. In that case, says Clarke, the open and honest approach is to explain why you don't feel you can work together and see if those discussions can create change. If not, she says, the company would turn its back on the work.

Fortunately, though, these situations are rare. 'More and more clients want to see what type of people we are, ' says Clarke.

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