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One Team – One Voice – Adopting a winning attitude through collaborative working

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Collaborative working relationships between HS2 and the various contractors strengthens the project’s reputation by conveying a one team approach to the public and reduces costs in the long run. This learning is important for clients to encourage inclusive communications for multi-contractor sites.

Background and industry context

The delivery of major public infrastructure, such as High Speed Two (HS2), is normally too large for one contractor. Projects of this magnitude are therefore often split into logical phases such as early works and main works, for example. As the different contracts are awarded at different stages of the project life cycle, unless preventative action is taken, it can quickly become an ‘us and them’ approach when new contractors arrive on site.

Programme priorities and commercial aspects between the different contractors do not always encourage a collaborative working environment and can lead to strained working relationships. However, communities affected by major works such as HS2 crave a joined-up approach to delivery and one single source of truth. In essence, communities see every worker on the project as ‘HS2’, regardless of who they work for.

Close collaboration is key to successful project delivery and achieving a best for project outcome.

Approach

One Team – One Voice

The northern section of High Speed Two (HS2) Phase One (known as Area North) Enabling Works Contract (EWC) is being delivered by the Laing O’Rourke Murphy joint venture (LMJV) and the Main Works Civils Contract (MWCC) by the BBV Integrated Project Team

The ‘One Team One Voice’ is a key principle underpinning the Area North engagement since the start of the delivery phase. From the outset, collaborative working relationships between HS2 Ltd and LMJV were nurtured to present a one team effort among communities, with an open and transparent approach to protect the project’s reputation. The management contract set up for early works was a natural fit for this.

This resulted in a tight-knit team and collaborative working between client and contractor became business as usual. This ethos was then passed to MWCC colleagues when they joined the team by using the following approach:

  • Delivering Area North group sessions around lessons learned and sharing tips on how to get quick buy-in from the delivery teams whilst ensuring they consider the Community Engagement team as a vital part of the overall team.
  • Pairing with MWCC colleagues on a geographical basis and holding regular meetings to discuss upcoming works that were captured on a joint engagement tracker.
  • Co-presenting at stakeholder meetings and hosting joint events.
  • Jointly producing quarterly newsletters to give communities and stakeholders a more strategic overview of all the works in their area.
  • Creating an overall stakeholder RACI with various categories to identify who was managing which stakeholder. This clarity meant team members knew which stakeholder they were leading engagement for or where they were supporting their colleagues.
  • Sharing joint messaging with the HS2 Helpdesk team so they could close out questions and queries quickly and help contribute to the one voice approach.

New team members for MWCC were hired during lockdown, which made it difficult for them to get to know their early works colleagues. As such, the following techniques were used to help new colleagues integrate:

  • Establishing a co-working location
  • Hosting joint visits to stakeholders
  • Setting up WhatsApp groups for team members to instantly contact their peers and raise and respond to issues
  • Holding informal meetings once Covid-19 restrictions were lifted

It is important to note that none of the above techniques are unusual or particularly innovative. The real innovation was the drive to collaborate as one team to protect the project’s reputation. The EWC/MWCC teams share the following learnings:

Advantages to collaborative working

  • It creates the ability to deliver very clear, consistent and therefore unambiguous messages in the community. This one voice approach avoids confusion and delays which, in turn, builds and increases trust in the project from stakeholders and the wider community.
  • This is a powerful achievement for a team – they all work towards a common goal. It is motivating to work together and to share learnings and support each other as one team.
  • It is best for project as collaborative engagement programmes and messaging reduce costs in the long run. A coherent approach results in less community opposition and less disruption.
  • Local authorities and key stakeholders welcome this one voice approach because it reduces their workload and helps them cascade consistent and clear messaging to their own networks, as well as reducing direct stakeholder enquiries to their organisations.
  • Collaborative working contributes to an improved project reputation and has the potential to increase the public’s positive perception and acceptance of the project.
  • There are fewer opportunities for stakeholders to lobby every time there is a new contractor on site because the team is fully aligned in messaging.

Disadvantages to collaborative working

  • Collaboration needs a lot of groundwork and resourcing which can feel as if it slows things down initially. This can cause project managers or commercial directors to question the need to support and resource collaboration.
  • If one party does not fully cooperate it can become draining for the teams who want to work collaboratively.
  • It requires client leadership to encourage all contractors to collaborate and to follow the approach established at the outset. It also requires contractors to take ownership of the approach for it to be successful.
  • Programme and commercial pressures can put strain on collaboration efforts and test the process. It is important that people fully commit so they can work through challenging periods as a team. The client has an important role to play around this as they ultimately decide the delivery of the overall scope and budget.

Outcomes and learning

Occasionally, new MWCC colleagues held meetings with stakeholders without the established team present. Several stakeholders used this opportunity to raise questions that had been investigated previously where they had not received the answer they were seeking. In some cases, these were issues that had been discounted at the Houses of Parliament Select Committee stage or were outside the parameters of the project. In some isolated cases, stakeholders misrepresented previous engagement undertaken to ‘divide and conquer’, which put the new colleagues in a challenging position and threatened the one team approach.

The contractor teams recognised this trend early and held a number of supportive sessions to ensure new colleagues did not feel pressured into committing to community requests without reverting to the internal team first. This included hosting briefings on ‘hot spot’ issues and previous Undertaking & Assurance agreements to ensure all teams were consistent when engaging externally.

Pairing different contractor team members with varying skill sets has contributed further to promoting continuous information sharing and learning. This upskilling has had benefits for the entire workforce and HS2.

Recommendations

Community Engagement team members are often ‘collaboration ambassadors’ in their project teams. Community team members’ approach is cross-departmental to ensure they work with expert colleagues and respond to community requests regardless of whether the enquiry is traffic, environmental, safety or delivery related.

Giving Community Engagement teams a louder voice in the project team from the outset and at a high-level, such as project board meetings, will benefit the entire team. Community Engagement team members will often offer a slightly different perspective and put communities at the heart of delivery, rather than including them as an afterthought. The teams also bring an understanding and knowledge about ‘their’ communities. Assessing impacts and risks carefully before mobilisation benefits the teams in the long run. Implementing community engagement that has already taken account of potential impacts can avoid disgruntled members of the community lobbying to bring work to a halt, which would result in significant cost and time implications.

Conclusion

Projects such as HS2 are both extremely complex and technical – it is challenging for communities to understand this and the associated contractual delivery arrangements. Communities view all HS2 colleagues as one team, regardless of who they actually work for. Adopting the approach outlined ensured all contractors and HS2 colleagues were able to support one another, and most importantly, were seen as one team by external audiences. This protects the project’s reputation by adopting consistent messaging that helps to deliver the project on time and on budget. Collaboration creates motivated, supportive teams that achieve and celebrate success collectively.

Acknowledgements

The HS2, BBV and LM community engagement teams in Area North

We thank Jonathon Lord, Area North Community Engagement Leader in HS2, for inspiring us to collaborate and to always look for a best for project solution.

References

Supporting Materials

After completing the draft article, LM wanted to visualise the idea. When researching the visual concept, LM found an image from the Institute for Collaborative Working, n.d. which captures all aspects of collaboration in an easy way.

Image explaining steps needed for collaboration

Image 1: What is Collaboration – source Institute for Collaborative Working

Because teams are often at the coal face of adversity or complaints, LM considered the wider concept of balance and harmony in teams and mindfulness for communities and applied the Japanese Ikigai concept to the collaborative community engagement efforts to explain its benefits in a simple visual way by using the Ikigai concept.

The Japanese Ikigai concept according to Wikipedia is described as ‘having a sense of purpose in life,[2][3] as well as being motivated.[4] According to a study,[vague] feeling ikigai as described in Japanese usually means the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment that follows when people pursue their passions.[5]

The Forbes article (Myers, 2018) which concluded that Ikigai is about finding joy, fulfilment, and balance in the daily routine of life also resonated with LM. LM mirrored their visualisation and applied it to the collaborative engagement team efforts delivered for HS2.

Finding your Ikigai for life and business

Find your Ikigai.

Image 2 – Forbes 2018 – Find your Ikigai.  BODETREE, ADAPTED FROM FRANCESC MIRALLES

Incorporating the Ikigai as collaborative community engagement teams for HS2

Image 3 – Interpretation of Ikigai for Collaborative Community Engagement in HS2