the evidence is in. collaboration makes a difference!

Often I work with organisations who want to break down silos or improve collaboration across the company. This is a topic that I have written on in the past and will share more in future posts.

Part of my work over the years has also been to support collaboration between companies, particularly in the capital projects arena. Whilst working for Shell Projects & Technology, I learnt much about what works and what gets in the way of effective collaboration and the importance of integrated project teams. I also learnt that slogans, posters and feel good team building sessions do not make a material difference on project outcomes. 

A question I am often asked is whether the effort is worth it. “If we have a good contract in place this should ensure good collaboration and win / win for all.” Whilst having a quality contract is important and sets our clear expectations, it is usually only pulled out of the draw when things go wrong or disputes arise.

Given this, it is valuable to read the latest Global Construction Disputes Report from Arcadis. They concluded that the average value of each dispute in 2020 was USD 30.7 million and a lack of willingness of owners and contractors to compromise being a major influence on this.

The importance of cross company or partner collaboration, especially with the impact of Covid-19, is underscored by the fact the report is subtitled Collaborating to achieve project excellence in the wake of Covid-19.”  When looking at the disruption experienced by large construction projects, the authors of the report state that:

“… there is one vital factor that spreads across all of these and will be critical to successful project completions, … This vital factor for all projects is resilience to recovery through collaboration.”

They go on to write that

“A common thread running through the results … is that bad relationships doom construction projects much more often than bad soil, bad weather, bad equipment, or a bad design. On the flip side, a willingness to compromise, set emotions aside and concentrate on what makes good business.”

The importance of collaboration and a focus on behaviours is reflected in the Principles for Project Success released by the UK Infrastructure & Projects Authority. Principles 2 & 3 are “Prioritise people and behaviour” and “Tell it like it is”. Again, well worth a read.

Collaborative Success Begins with Beliefs

The attitudes and beliefs we hold when it comes to the relationships between owners and contractors, or clients and consultants has a huge impact on how we behave with each other. If from day 1 a belief is held that the contractor should be subservient to the owner, this will play out in the way we engage with each other resulting in:

  • Co-creation replaced with setting of demands.
  • Lack of Creativity
  • Lack of proactivity and joint problem solving
  • Minimal incentive to identify improvement opportunities
  • Diminished sense of care for each other – I’m curious if there is a correlation between safety performance and willingness to effectively collaborate.

What we end up with is, using the language of transactional analysis, a Parent – Child relationship driven by ego and power. Certainly not a relationship that drives collaboration.

Steps we can take to better collaborate on projects

Recently the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) released their Project Collaboration Toolkit (PCT). Whilst focused on large scale projects, the essence is applicable to all cross-organisation collaboration:

1.     Establish a Collaborative Environment  

2.     Set your project up in a way that promotes collaboration with clear expectations

3.     Throughout the project continually check in, self assess and reframe how you work together

4.     At the close out harness the learnings ready for the next project

Regardless of the type if project you are leading, I share some questions that a multi organisation team or steering committee could, or should reflect on.:

  • What is the core business opportunity that we are steering?
  • What is the unique purpose of this team to support that opportunity? What is it that only we, as a cross organisation team can do?
  • Do we have the right people around the table?
    • To represent our organisation and serve the project at the same time
    • Appropriate for the stage that the project is in
    • The ability to engage in robust discussions that explore divergent ways to address a systemic problem or seize an opportunity
  • What principles or values guide the project and thus guide us?
  • What do each of us bring to this team to support the purpose? Reflect on experience, expertise and home organisational resources.
  • What capacity will we need in the future to be successful?
  • What are the competing interests around the table? How do we support each other to ensure all needs are met?
  • What are stakeholders expecting of this team? Are we delivering?
  • What have we achieved so far? What should we start / stop / change doing? What potentially will undermine the performance of this team in the future and thus impact the project?

You will see that many of the questions are the same for any team – and that is the key. To be effective, steering committees need to be set up for impact and success as per any other team(*).

These are tough yet invaluable conversations to be had, often best done through dialogue with an impartial facilitator.


Over the last year I have been closely connected with Kingsfield Academy who provide training and coaching solutions addressing the commercial and contractual challenges of delivering major engineering and construction projects.

They offer a range of courses on project collaboration, including Building Collaboration Skills & Strategies for Projects. If you are about to start or are in the middle of a construction project, it is worth having a call with this great team.

Reach out if you would like to explore this post further or need help with collaboration

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