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Insanity can be avoided if the industry collaborates

Nigel Blundell

Collaboration: a word used frequently in this business, yet one we fail to put into practice in order to reap the benefits. 

If construction is to evolve into the efficient, cost-effective and profitable industry the UK needs, collaboration must be top of the agenda. 

In many ways the industry is its own worst enemy. On the one hand, it appears convinced of the need for change to survive and prosper. On the other, there is inertia and deep-seated reluctance to alter established methods of procurement, improve working practices and embrace new technologies.

Last year we launched a report that suggested collaboration is currently more myth than reality. This year, Pinsent Masons’ second report concludes that if the industry doesn’t embrace collaboration now, it may never happen.

Tackling blame and distrust

We brought together 30 industry experts to focus on what needs to be done and how it can be achieved around the key themes of teamwork, leadership, risk and contractual structures, supply chain and BIM. 

We found that a shift in cultural mindsets is needed if we are to move away from the blame-driven culture of penalties for failure. There should be equitable sharing of risks and fair incentivisation for clients and the supply chain. 

Deep-seated distrust between parties remains, so clients and project sponsors must demonstrate a comprehensive appreciation of team dynamics, especially in relation to blame and accountability.

“Understandably there will be initial costs to implementing collaboration, but we must see the bigger picture and recognise the great benefits that will come”

To facilitate improved team working, a common conclusion of our groups was the appointment of an independent person to coach a team through challenging issues. Strong leadership is vital and there should be one industry-wide body that leads, has close links to government and speaks with one voice.

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) is the best forum for this. But to be truly effective, it should demonstrate greater democracy in the election of its members, ensure its diversity and show it covers the whole industry. 

Share the tech

BIM is inevitably cited as aiding collaboration. To drive its wider adoption, cost savings accrued from BIM should be quantified and publicised across the industry. 

We’re not good at publicising information that proves collaboration’s effectiveness. Greater investment should be made in centres of excellence to collate all the evidence and demonstrate the value of new techniques, methods and technology.

In addition, encouraging more widespread sharing of recent outturn costs information would lead to realistic project budgets and better management of client expectations. 

It is now vital the whole industry – including clients, the supply chain and government – makes an absolute commitment to shift its culture and work together for success.

Understandably there will be initial costs to implementing collaboration, but we must see the bigger picture and recognise the great benefits that will come. 

We want to prompt the industry to look at itself through a different lens and consider collaboration as one significant contributor towards enhancing robust performance improvement.

After all, as Einstein is reputed to have said: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the true definition of insanity.”

Nigel Blundell is a partner at Pinsent Masons and a contributor to ‘Collaborative Construction 2 – Now or Never?’

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