Blog: The Benefits of Collaborative Working

20 November 2023

Construction Thought Leaders Discuss Challenges in the Sector

Keith Heard, Commercial Manager & Category Development at Hampshire County Council, Leader at Southern Construction Framework, Chair at National Association of Construction Frameworks

Keith Heard, SECBE board member and Chairman of the National Association of Construction Frameworks, shares his insights on Integration and Collaborative Working in construction. Keith, SECBE and NACF totally believe true collaboration and integration by all project partners consistently delivers greater and sustained success for all than any other approach - and it's far more enjoyable for all. Here's what he says.....

The benefits of collaborative working are well documented, and enthusiastically endorsed by many through the Constructing Excellence Awards, so why is the default position to revert to traditional tender? Of course, single stage tender can work in low-risk, clearly definable situations, but why is there such scepticism about the alternative joined-up approach? Why do the various parties involved distrust each other so much? And why is there so much antipathy to the supply chain who do the vast majority of the work?

Redefining Collaboration

The use of the word collaboration is, perhaps, overused now, and its meaning has diminished and is interpreted very differently across the spectrum of construction participants. I have seen people write that they have worked collaboratively, but others in the team have not, that they have delivered their bit, but others have not, that they are to be trusted, but others are not.

Since my early career in construction management, I have enjoyed working on projects that pull together everyone involved including clients, stakeholders, consultants, contractors and specialists, and working with all of them from their diverse backgrounds in a fully integrated team. And there is the difference, integration versus collaboration. It is very easy to assemble a team, put them in a room and tell them to work collaboratively, but not so easy to integrate them into a team that understands each other, their roles, deliverables and interdependencies. That is a skill that needs leadership and understanding of the whole process and not just a contract and a big stick.

Some of the best CE Award winners in this category have been projects led by the client, but many clients are not developers or regular construction customers, quite the opposite. Many clients are exposed to our industry perhaps only once in their lifetime, local authorities building leisure centres for instance. Fortunately for our industry, there are many people who believe in the integrated team approach, understand what it takes to do it well and can support these clients.

What It Takes To Collaborate

However, there are probably as many who advise clients to shed the risk. Where do they think the risk goes? It certainly does not disappear, it continues to exist and be realised at someone’s fiscal and mental expense. Usually it keeps getting kicked down the supply chain until it ends up with those doing the work. I have seen a subcontract package that made the bricklayer accountable for the design of the lintols. Proper allocation of risk, and agreement in the team about where accountabilities lie are key planks of a fully integrated team. All the best “Integration and Collaborative Working” entries that I have judged or seen over the years working with the SECBE Awards and Constructing Excellence have assembled a team around common objectives, goals and strategies, and have agreed individual roles and responsibilities around a common programme. Risks have been identified and allocated to owners with clear mitigation plans. These projects have clearly delivered the best possible product for the available money.

Fostering Collaboration. Collaboratively.

We need to make sure that clients entering the market place are not just fed fables of wolves in the woods looking to get fat at their expense, but also that such a diverse industry can work together to deliver economic, social, environmental and well being benefits. So shout about your successes in high performing integrated teams, and shout louder than those who believe that you can somehow make risk disappear.

What is SECBE doing to help the sector to collaborate?

Recognising the complexity of the Integration and Collaborative working approach, SECBE is fostering it through its IFLP Programme. This program brings together leaders from various roles within the industry into a single cohort. It helps them grasp the challenges and contributions of each sector player and build a 365-degree view.

Through workshops and insightful sessions, IFLP helps cultivate a comprehensive understanding of the sector, establishes a shared language among participants, and paves the way for new partnerships and collaborations.

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