Purpose: Tap into your team’s potential to solve complex problems
Time required: Initial half-day workshop, then interim follow-up work over the next six months
The theory behind the resource: The traditional approach to problem-solving on large projects is to rely on the knowledge and experience of individual experts. However, we are coming to realise that when faced with the often complex and ambiguous issues that are a feature of 21st-century, projects require a different way of thinking. The solution is to tap into the power of human ingenuity by using the collective thinking power of a diverse group. Teams can therefore provide an invaluable mechanism for finding new and effective solutions to difficult problems.
Accessing the collective intelligence of a team is, however, easier said than done. Assembling a group of bright minds does not mean they will generate any new thinking. There are a number of barriers which inhibit the truly open discussions that are needed. Miscommunication, a lack of appreciation of each other’s mental filters, outsized egos, and internal rivalries all diminish thinking capacity. To build collective intelligence, teams often need to learn, through training and group coaching, to be able to understand their limiting factors and how to work around them.
The process: The first step is to set up a half-day workshop, or to include the following activities as part of a team development day. The workshop comprises of three sessions.
Part One – Seeing different perspectives
The first part of the journey is to help team members recognise they have different ways of thinking. One of the fastest ways to do this is to use a simple psychometric that will help identify different motivations or preferences that will shape each person’s perspectives. Our preference is SDI (Strength Deployment Inventory) because it is quick to administer, easy to absorb, and most importantly easy to memorise. Having sent out the online tests the week before the team should arrive at the workshop aware of their own psychometric profile. The facilitator can then focus the team on the differences that are likely to emerge from each of the main profiles. The purpose of this first session is to engage the team members in a discussion that begins to help them see the potential value in having different perspectives when compared with the limitations that come with a single point of view.
Part Two – Formative experiences
How we behave in a working environment is also influenced by our previous experiences, both positive and negative. The second part of the workshop requires the team to split into groups of two or three people. Each person is then allowed five minutes to talk about what they remember as an important experience that has shaped how they think or make decisions. This could be personal or it could be professional. Once each person has had the chance to share, their counterpart must then provide a shortened (two minutes) summary of what they have heard, to the rest of the room. The value of this exercise is that it begins to deepen the types of conversation that can take place between team members helping them to understand what matters to each person and why.
Part Three – Understanding the need for psychological safety
A team is unlikely to harness its collective intelligence if some of the members do not feel psychologically safe. In other words, every person around the table feels sufficiently comfortable to be able to express their thoughts without fear of ridicule or retribution. This is easy to understand in theory, but how does it work in practice?
This is a short exercise where the concept of psychological safety is explained. Having allowed some time for questions, each team member is asked to spend five minutes thinking about the concept and to make a note of their thoughts around the following questions:
- When do I feel most safe in a meeting?
- When might I be uncomfortable?
- What could we do as a team to improve our sense of safety?
- How do we get better at challenging each other’s thinking without creating an intimidating atmosphere?
The facilitator then goes around the table, taking each of the questions, in turn, explains their thoughts without interruption, summarising their points on a flip chart. Once each person has spoken the team can then have a short discussion before moving on to the next point.
Part Four – Next actions
To close off the session, the team should spend 10 minutes identifying a series of actions they will take forward in future meetings.
These exercises will not in themselves automatically improve the team’s Collective Intelligence. They will however your team the foundation upon which to build a more effective way of thinking as a genuine team. The key point to emphasise is that in a complex environment, there are few simple answers. Indeed one of the dangers teams face is to try and oversimplify an issue by simply ignoring the other elements that create complexity.
Part of the underlying learning from the above exercises should be that no single member of the team has the full answer, but each member of a team potentially has a part of it. Teams who can learn the humility to accept this have a much better chance of finding novel and practical responses to the challenges of 21st-century problems.
Last week, the team from Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) travelled 10,497 miles and we couldn’t wait to welcome them to our new offices for an amazing networking event! All the way from their offices near St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne to ResoLex HQ by St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
MTM are on a mission to recruit some amazing new talent to relocate and join them on some exciting projects in Victoria. Planning an event so far away can be difficult so we joined forces with Rail Media and NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) to help plan and execute the perfect networking and recruitment event.
Why did we become an event partner?
“Having worked with several of the MTM leadership team members in the UK, we were keen to support their international learning opportunities and foster international collaboration.
We joined MTM as their event partner as we know major projects worldwide require the same key elements to ensure success; technical competence, commercial competence and what we term social competence. Metro Trains Melbourne are offering the opportunity for project professionals to share learning from Crossrail and HS2 (High Speed 2) to this exciting urban transport project ‘Victoria’s Big Build’.
We are particularly interested in the impact of the alliance agreement, preferred in Australia when it comes to creating the integration required for successfully deploying the rail systems.
Therefore we were delighted to meet Pete Gleeson, Executive Director, and catch up with Jamie Burns and Lisa Hogben when they said they were coming to the UK on a learning mission and support their offering of opportunities to those who fancy the adventure of relocating to work with Metro”.
Edward Moore, Chief Exec. at ResoLex
The event was a great success for MTM and those interested in relocating! We are keen to support like-minded organisations in major projects who are working to build diverse and collaborative teams. We caught up with Lisa Hogben, Package Director at Metro Trains Melbourne for some feedback on the event and here’s what she had to say:
Having worked with ResoLex in the past, enjoyed their innovative and creative professional development events and seeing how they live their values of insight, creativity, and partnership, I knew they were the right partners for our UK networking event.
To me, the essence of true collaboration is doing things for others even if there’s no immediate benefit to you, and ResoLex models that essence.
We’re so thankful that ResoLex agreed to be our event partners, and we definitely owe them one!
We would like to thank everyone involved and wish those relocating every success in an industry close to our hearts! Get in touch if you would like to see how we can help your project team.
Putting The Construction Playbook into Practice – 30th June 2022
Facilitated by Ed Moore and Kelachi Amadi-Echendu
ResoLex’s Roundtable series recommenced with our first in-person session since Autumn 2019 and in our new home – you may have seen, we have relocated along with our friends from the International Dispute Resolution Centre to Paternoster Lane right next to the beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral – where we welcomed a select group to delve into some of the key aspects of The Construction Playbook.
Our Chief Exec, Ed opened the session by setting out our view that the success of major projects hinges on three critical interlinked elements; Technical, Commercial and Social. His observation is that The Construction Playbook continues the worthy objective of modernising the construction industry. However, reading through the document one can see that its focus is primarily on a project’s technical and commercial elements, but has little to say on the social element, on the people that deliver projects.
Our Senior Consultant, Kelachi then introduced the report we recently produced, Changing Behaviours in Construction: A complement to The Construction Playbook. The report brings together our experience and contributions from our Associates and is designed to act as a complement to The Construction Playbook. It provides practical guidance on the behavioural and cultural elements that supplement some of the key recommendations in the Playbook, focusing on actions and activities that we know through our experience help to build a project’s ‘social capital’.
Our Roundtable sessions are designed to be an interactive discussions rather than a lecture. We, therefore, had an interactive session with participation from everyone in the room, offering a range of perspectives around two key topics:
- Collaborative Leadership
Leadership has been a hot topic within the industry lately. Kelachi pointed out that it is discussed throughout our report and was recently raised in the second iteration of the ICE review: A Systems Approach to Infrastructure Delivery. An article in the NCE references the report as identifying the need for projects to move on from the habit of appointing ‘hero leaders’ – you can find the full article here.
There was consensus in the room that when faced with complexity, there is a need to adopt different leadership styles and attributes and, that collaborative leadership is desirable, but it is probably more important to embed the right culture at the start. The discussion also brought out the recognition that the leadership needs of a project change as the project/programme moves through the cycle. In modern construction, leaders need to be truly agile, and able to adjust their approach depending on circumstances.
- Front End Loading
Ed picked up on the requirement in the Playbook to put more time into the start of a project to think through how a team will work together before moving into the task of construction. The question to the room was the extent to which this would add value.
The consensus was that time spent working through potential issues with the full design and delivery team, ideally producing a digital twin, would ultimately produce a better outcome. The proviso, however, was that project teams need to be clear on the main focus, as time can easily be frittered away on inconsequential matters.
The other challenge identified is that upfront investment in building relationships could be wasted if individuals involved in the early stages of a project then quickly moved on to other projects or roles. The answer to this problem was seen to be the need to proactively establish a strong culture so that new entrants to the project would quickly pick up the required mindset and behaviours set out in the beginning.
Taking an overview of the evening’s discussion, the common perspective was a recognition that the social, and therefore people component is a key element in the shifting of behaviours to enable the construction industry to deal with the complexity and uncertainty that are features of our current environment. The industry must therefore focus more effort to train leaders in how to become more agile and understand how to build project cultures that will embed collaborative ways of working that will endure through the life cycle of a project.
You can access The Construction Playbook and our report through the links below:
The Construction Playbook
Changing Behaviours in Construction: A complement to The Construction Playbook
Tony Llewellyn – 4 July 2022
Major projects are typically fraught with issues and problems. Teams are generally set up with the resources to solve day to day difficulties. It is why most of us like working on projects. What happens, however, when you have to rely on another team to find the answer? This is why every project needs to pay attention to the development of collaborative interfaces.
More often than not when we talk about collaboration we think of it as some form of generic process or activity that should be taking place across the whole of a project at all times. The reality is that collaboration is only needed when a problem occurs at the interface between two or more teams engaged in the delivery process. One of the key leadership activities sitting under the collaboration workstream should focus on the potential points of inter-team friction.
Here are some suggestions to consider that will improve collaboration by reducing friction:
1) Create an Interface Management Plan
Each team within a project should invest time in developing an ‘interface management plan’. This is a simple document that captures the thinking around the following questions
a. Who are we going to be dependent on to deliver our portion of the works
b. Who is going to be dependent on us
c. What are the potential friction points where problems could arise
d. Who are the individuals we need to get to know in those teams where we have a degree on interdependency
e. How should we connect and communicate with them to establish the right relationships? The development of the plan should be treated as a short and simple exercise, the output from which is contained in a single sheet of paper. It can be created in a couple of hours, but should be a team exercise so that everyone is aware of the need to manage the interfaces.
2) Build collaborative relationships
If you know you are going to need help from someone in another team, it is a good idea to have some form of positive relationship with them. We advocate the process of building what is known as Level 2 relationships, where we seek to have the kind of social exchanges which enable us to learn enough about the other party to be able to see them as human beings rather than simply names attached to a role. Of course, people must be allowed to make their own choices about building personal relationships, but we can put in place mechanisms to stimulate our team’s knowledge of each other through meetings, workshops and social events.
3) Manage blame instinct
It is also helpful to train your teams to understand the counter-productive nature of blame when things go wrong. Blame is an emotional reaction to frustration and anger, but it tends to be highly destructive and usually closes down our ability to find solutions as we limit communication and establish adversarial positions. As human beings, we cannot control our emotions, but we can learn to manage them. So train your teams to understand the need to move quickly from a reactive response that the other team is at fault, to a reflective position where you try to understand what has gone wrong and how to remedy the situation.
Paying attention to collaborative interfaces can be thought of as another form of risk management. It requires identifying key interdependencies in advance and putting in place a plan of activities to mitigate the consequences of inter-team conflict. At ResoLex, we come across too many projects where the leadership takes a view that a proactive approach to collaborative relationships is unnecessary. This attitude is somewhat complacent as human beings have a tendency to react negatively when under pressure or stress. So paying some attention to establishing positive interfaces between the right people at the right time, will significantly improve the chances of a successful outcome.
How many of the meetings that you attended in the last month had a focused and clear agenda, ran to time, and sought a useful contribution from each of the attendees? How many of those meetings had attendees who then agreed and noted down a set of actions? From the feedback we have collected from teams working on major projects, the answer probably is: ‘not many’. If one considers the huge amount of time and resource that goes into meetings, it is astonishing that project leaders and their commercial advisers do not put more effort into ensuring that meeting time is used effectively. Much has been written on this topic, but bad meetings continue to be a chronic problem in most project teams. So, what can be done to make a difference? I believe some effort should be applied to relearning the lost art of ‘chairing’… let’s take a further look.
The term “chairman” arose in the mid-17th century and was used to describe someone occupying the ‘chair of authority’ for a meeting, group, or corporate body; the person responsible for ensuring the effective outcome of the meeting. Over time, we seem to have interpreted that for the chair to hold authority, the role should always default to the most senior individual at the table, but this isn’t the case.
The prevailing assumption appears to be that chairing a meeting is simply a matter of being in charge, where seniority governs how contributions are made and should be received. We also face an interesting phenomenon that senior managers and leaders rarely think their own meetings are run badly, but can quickly identify the problems of poor leadership in meetings where they are only attendees. The suggestion that they might need to do some training in this area will often be swiftly dismissed, and so, organisations continue to propagate the habits and culture of bad meetings. Fortunately, there are some straightforward and easily applicable actions that leaders and attendees can follow to curb bad meeting culture, the question is, how?
The importance of effective meetings
People meeting in groups of four or more typically requires a degree of leadership to ensure the time spent is productive. To get the best out of any group event, people need a framework which that sets the expected boundaries of behaviour within which they can feel comfortable to express themselves and, be creative in their thinking, whilst engaging with the thoughts and ideas of others in the room.
For effective meetings, organisations need to adopt a framework and create a good meeting culture, this should be exampled by the project leaders and embraced by all team members.
A distinctive role
The Chair of a meeting should be seen by everyone as a distinct and essential role to having productive meetings. Defaulting to the most senior person is not necessarily the right option, especially, if they are needed as part of the discussion. The Chair needs to be able to take a step back from the content of the discussion and focus on using their skills to facilitate and keep the meeting on track – these distinct skills are not difficult to learn but are hugely important. Regardless of your seniority, you cannot assume that you have the right skills to chair a meeting – however, you can develop skills these skills and help your team have more effective meetings.
Chairing a better meeting
At a basic level, the primary skill for chairing a meeting is to learn to contract with the rest of the group. Contracting is a process used at the start to remind everyone of their shared purpose in attending the meeting. This is the most important part of the session as it provides everyone with the opportunity to become aligned with the required output of the meeting. The contracting process gains attendee consent to a short set of agreements at the start of the meeting which the Chair will use throughout to provide boundaries and to keep participants accountable. The agreements should align with the following:
- Reiterate purpose
The Chair should reiterate the purpose of the meeting and confirm agreement with the participants. Without an agreed purpose, it is easy for the discussion to be derailed by other urgent concerns. The Chair can use the agreed purpose to keep the meeting focused on what is important for that particular meeting.
- Agree on outputs
The Chair will agree on outputs with the attendees – they could be shared information, a technical solution or some initial thoughts and ideas, but there must be an agreement between those involved on the expected outputs from the meeting.
- Expected timings
The Chair should confirm timings with the group and offer an opportunity for anyone to communicate if they need to leave the meeting early.
- Common ground rules
People assembled as a group need a set of common ground rules within which to operate. When the ground rules are not explicitly stated, bad behaviours tend to creep in, and meetings become ineffective. The following ground rules should be stated by the Chair at the start of the meeting:
- Everyone present is expected to speak
- Everyone who speaks is allowed to be heard
- We have one conversation
- We stick to the topic
- Everyone stays present (no checking emails on your phone, etc.)
Everyone is then asked to state they agree. This might seem overly formal, but the point about these rules is that they create a verbal contract within the group which gives the Chair the authority to pull people back in line when they move off-topic, become disengaged or display other behaviours which may take the meeting off track.
- Taking notes
One of the most important roles in any meeting is to agree on who is going to take a formal set of notes. This is a particular problem in meetings among senior people, as note-taking is traditionally regarded as a task for junior staff and often ignored. The problem is, without some form of record of the discussion, it is very easy for each participant to walk out of the room with a different interpretation of what was agreed. As a bare minimum, the Chair should ensure a written note is circulated that summarises:
- The date;
- Who attended;
- The matter under discussion;
- Agreed actions by whom and by when.
Again, this may seem basic, but in a major project, hundreds of meetings take place every day, and if it is common practice to meet without formal notes, decisions often become blurred or misinterpreted.
Advanced chairing skills
Once the meeting is off to the right start, with everyone focused on the agenda, and following the ground rules there are, however, additional skills that can be very useful when dealing with ‘difficult’ meetings. These include:
- Identifying the introverted thinkers and ensuring they contribute
- Managing extroverted thinkers who continually interrupt others
- Reading the dynamics of the room to identify interrelationships and how they influence the discussion
- ‘Hearing’ what is not being said to identify issues people may be avoiding
- Managing outsized egos who want to push their own agenda
- Avoiding ambiguous decisions that allow different interpretations of what is being agreed
These are skills that aren’t essential at the beginning but are skills that every Chair should aspire to learn over time.
What can we take away from this? Project leaders need to ensure that all meetings are effective – to do this, they need to make sure team members are aware of the specific framework needed for meetings and ensure that there is someone competent to take the role of Chair. The Chair must be trained in the various skills mentioned above in order for them to facilitate the meeting well. These behavioural changes will help teams focus on the topic at hand and use their meeting time effectively.
As a final thought, consider how many meetings you will be involved in across your project this week – perhaps you are taking the role of chair for several of them. How might you adopt a structured approach to chairing these meetings and what would the effect be on the productivity of your time and others in your team?