Create more than just a team, build an effective team

Create more than just a team, build an effective team

Anti-Bullying Week 2022

20 years ago, ResoLex focused on dispute resolution for teams involved in major projects and complex environments. Over the years, we have developed a deep understanding of how people work together in teams and within the stresses and strains of complex environments – a recipe for behavioural risk! Fast forward to today, and we use that knowledge to help teams strengthen their social competencies, manage behavioural risk and embed a collaborative environment to deliver better outcomes.

Our focus is always on the people: how individuals come together to form a team, the impact of the project environment on relationships and the function of processes and structures to enable people to deliver successfully. So, what do we mean by ‘create more than just a team’? We all strive to create a team that is more than just a workgroup. Our aim is for teams to be effective, but what does that look like?

In major project delivery or any complex environment, an effective team is one that can respond with agility and develop new solutions to the dynamic challenges that the environment brings. A team like this is often made up of people with diverse perspectives, who can safely challenge one another to get to the best outcome. An effective team must have a psychologically safe culture – enabling individuals to feel included and encouraged to contribute their diverse perspectives to the benefit of the project.

One of the early challenges for project leadership is to decide how to bring diverse groups together so they can work effectively, not just on their own element of the project, but critically in the way they support the outputs of other teams with which they must interact and here lies the importance of communication and aligning cultures. Edgar Schien argues* (and we agree!) that for humans to work effectively together, they need to engage based on ‘level two relationships’ – personal, cooperative and trusting relationships where we see others as human beings, acknowledging the whole person and with symmetry in the confidence and trust that each person in that relationship can have in the other (without symmetry, the relationship will remain transactional or will even end). In a ‘level two relationship’, we have a greater level of knowledge of the factors that shape the lives and behaviours of those we work with regularly. When we have a greater degree of understanding, we accept others for who they are as human beings rather than simply identifying them with the job they do. We are consequently more able to build the trust, respect and healthy interactions that are critical to creating psychological safety and laying the foundations for the high-performing team that we desire.

Without this work, project teams are at risk of defaulting to the kinds of behaviours that lead to a hostile working environment, blame culture and workplace bullying, which are not only unpleasant to experience but lead to underperforming, ineffective teams.

This blog was inspired by Anti-Bullying Week, and you might be wondering, what does that have to do with building an effective team?

The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) are the official organiser of the Anti-Bullying Week campaign. Every year, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the bullying of children and young people in schools and elsewhere and to highlight the ways of preventing and responding to it. Whilst we are somewhat removed from the world of educating young people, we recognise that our working environments are the next step for them as they develop, and many will spend their careers working in the teams and according to the cultures that we are building.

We are by no means experts on bullying, but we know bullying doesn’t just stop at childhood – adult and workplace bullying takes place and can have an especially damaging impact not only on individuals but on whole teams and organisations. We wanted to highlight the campaign and share some thoughts on how building an effective team creates a working environment where people feel confident, supported and empowered (and, of course, not bullied!). Just as we recognise there are actions that can be taken to prevent reaching the dispute resolution stage, there are also actions that we can take as leaders to prevent the unhealthy cultures and environments that tolerate workplace bullying from developing in the first place.

Remember these key ingredients so that you can make sure you are doing more than just creating a team – you are building an effective one.

We hope this information has been useful, if your team needs support in strengthening those social competencies, please get in contact with us. If you are seeking support for workplace bullying, here is an online resource from CIPD, the Professional body for HR and people development.

 

* Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust, Edgar H. Schein, 2018

Collaboration is the answer but what is the question?

Collaboration is the answer but what is the question?

Rail Forum event – Infrastructure Collaboration: A Route to Success

Last week, we had the opportunity to join the Rail Forum as an event partner and keynote speaker for their Infrastructure Collaboration: A Route to Success event. Around 80 delegates gathered together at the RaisE Business Centre in Goole to hear from industry experts to unpick collaboration, what it means for the supply chain and how it can work well in practice. Ben Higgens, Engagement Manager at the Rail Forum opened the floor explaining that in order for collaboration to work, it needs to be a win-win for all parties.

“Given how important collaboration is and will continue to be moving forward in the industry, we are keen that it does not become another buzzword. By providing an opportunity for our members to hear best practice case studies, key considerations for when looking to collaborate, and also a legal perspective, they are better placed to collaborate effectively”. – Ben Higgens, Engagement Manager at Rail Forum

Keynote: Creating a collaborative project environment to drive performance

ResoLex has been working for the last 20 years to embed collaborative environments in large infrastructure projects to achieve better project outcomes. We were therefore delighted to share our industry experience as the keynote speaker at the event. Our Chief Executive, Edward Moore started the session with a bang… well technically with a question! “Collaboration is the answer but what is the question?”

He pointed out that with just the 80 attendees there were 6320 potential connections in the room. If one thinks of some of the major projects with thousands of people in the supply chain, there are millions of potential connections! The greater the number of connections, the greater complexity involved in managing that project through to successful completion. Ed went on to look at the difference between transactional, cooperative and collaborative relationships and how to determine which approach is best for your project and whether collaboration is the right answer.

Infrastructure Collaboration: A Route to Success event

He then delved into what collaboration may bring including; enhanced benefits realisation, time-saving and an enhanced outcome, moving on to how one can create purposeful relationships and the attributes of a collaborative relationship.

“Let’s think about the most effective relationships we want and if the answer is collaborative then let’s not go in light-heartedly. Let’s do it with the right investment, and the right commitment and then what we can create is a connected ecosystem that allows the value to be drawn from all of the supply chain. The alignment, the sharing of knowledge between the client with their external drivers and their project objectives, right the way through so that everyone is part of an aligned supply chain that are all working to that one goal. Then I think we will start to see a real upshift in project performance and the value can be created.” – Edward Moore, CEO at ResoLex

Guest speaker summary

Speakers including Mark Smith from TAZIER, John Allsop from VAN ELLE, Jake Rudham from Unipart Rail and Graham Shaw from Volker Rail each explained the importance of collaborative relationships and environments on their projects. The key takeaways included the alignment of objectives within the partnership and understanding the scope of responsibilities. Drawing on the importance of business relationships, developing personal relationships with like-minded individuals within the businesses was also mentioned.

Mike Halliday, Network Rail Eastern expressed the need for behavioural change to understand the supply chain a little better. He also highlighted the importance of identifying risks early within a project and taking an approach that puts the project first. Many project leaders and professionals understand the need to identify risks but often miss or put less effort into identifying behavioural risks. ResoLex has developed a number of tools to use in complex environments to help identify these risks, you can find out more on our website here.

Emma Toes, Nelsons solicitors mentioned the considerations you should have and the legal boundaries in place for a successful collaborative relationship. She highlighted the need for a contract to protect your business, project and relationship.

To finish the session, Ben posed the question: What is one word to describe collaboration? With answers from the guest speakers including:

• Trust
• Alignment
• Reliability
• Pride

We’d like to thank those at the Rail Forum for their continued support and the opportunity to be a partner and keynote speaker at such an insightful event. We hope the importance of collaborative environments rings true for many working on major projects and in complex environments. If you think we could be of assistance to support your team, please get in touch.

Roundtable round-up: Transferable skills transforming delivery

Roundtable round-up: Transferable skills transforming delivery

With guest speaker Rose McArthur, Director of Transport and Highways for Cheshire West and Chester Council and facilitated by Kelachi Amadi-Echendu, ResoLex

Kelachi opened the session with some background on ResoLex, explaining one of our underlying observations; projects rely on a triumvirate of competencies, technical, commercial and social. To set the landscape further, she highlighted a general challenge for lack of skills within the infrastructure sector. The skills problems begins at a high-level, so we have a technical challenge in areas such as climate change, as well as the economic challenges that organisations are wrestling with in a post-pandemic environment. The social component of major projects mentioned earlier encompasses these leadership challenges. The theme of the session was therefore to consider how we can bring people-oriented skills into the industry from other sectors whilst still appreciating the technical skills with career developments that aren’t necessarily leadership.

Roundtable images

Rose started her presentation by talking about her own journey from being a Senior Consultant in a large engineering company, to a very different role in a local authority. Her background in integrated transport planning gave her the opportunity to work on huge projects such as the 2012 London Olympics, keeping people moving despite the challenge with an influx of people.

In her new role, she now has to focus on the practical problems within the highway sector exemplified by issues such as potholes, gulleys and pigeons. Many of the problems are much smaller in scale but there are huge amounts of them. Although Rose has a Director role and needs to strategically plan for the council’s transport and highways, many public enquiries are escalated to her due to a lack of communication from the project level and out to the local community.

Cheshire highways are a £5 billion asset, so there are many miles of road infrastructure that must be managed within very tight financial constraints. Rose made the point however that her biggest challenge is actually the people – as is the case in many engineering-focused teams, the historic basis for promotion is time served and technical expertise. Little concern has ever been paid to the skills of being customer focused and focusing strategically on future needs. All too often teams within the organisation have a silo mindset, and it is therefore difficult to get them to engage in new concepts outside of their core areas of expertise. So when it comes to management skills, technical competency is probably only around 25% of what is needed. Instead, there is a critical need for skills in communication, people management, delivering change, and the ability to engage a wider stakeholder group. Of course, some people with these technical skills may thrive in leadership and management roles but only with the right effort put into training – these important skills need development and training.

In developing her teams, Rose has found that she must therefore expand her search horizons when looking for new recruits. For example, she believes that change starts with the data-led approach, so the ability to analyse and communicate trends and issues is critical. She is also seeking people who have effective communication skills so that stakeholder relationships can be managed more effectively. More often than not, she has to go outside of the organisation to look for people in other sectors and industries to get the less technical but more strategic types of people to therefore reach the balanced team she requires.

Thoughts and observations from the floor included the following:

  • An example was given of the huge value provided by somebody who had a passion for the environment but who originally came from a role in finance.
  • Bringing in new skills and perspectives is important, but to be successful organisations need to be ready for the disruption they may cause. For example, construction firms are often not comfortable with people who are trying to push a different way of thinking.
  • Leadership is critical in changing mindsets and behaviours. An example was given from a major programme where one of the senior leaders attended the sustainability group which significantly boosted attendance and output.
  • There is a distinct leadership skill set around managing complexity and ambiguity.
  • Creating resilient teams is one of the keys to survival in the 21st century, where leaders surround themselves with people who support each other in pursuit of a common goal.

The underlying message from the session is that in organisations that need to change, there needs to be a shift in the types of skills and competencies that may not be present in the current structure. The technical element which used to be dominant in many engineering-oriented businesses are still important, but at leadership, the level must often be subordinated to the ability to manage the problems created by complexity, scale and pressure on resources. The challenge for all organisations involved in infrastructure is to identify the different skills needed and create an environment which will encourage bright people to come and join them.