Building high-performing teams in a crisis

7 min read

This article is part of our Grow Together perspective series, highlighting the opportunities and culture of the industry.

High profile projects. Demanding timescales. Competing priorities. Teamwork is critical to the successful management of all three -but what’s the secret behind achieving that synergy? Frank Randles, Mace’s Director for Pharma and Life Sciences, has led teams across a range of sectors and geographies – from the 2019 Pan-American Games in Peru to the Nightingale Hospital programme in London - and so knows what is needed to unite a successful, outcome-focused team. Here he looks at some of the factors vital to bringing those teams together.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been a personal and professional challenge for everyone - the effects of which will still be felt for years to come. But the pandemic also presented an opportunity; for the construction industry to prove its worth, not only supporting the UK’s nationwide response but delivering positive outcomes for a society undergoing enormous change. Within the built environment, building high performing teams has always been an essential component in delivering on those outcomes. From residential to education, industrial to heritage redevelopments, teamwork is key. And at Mace, we’ve honed our approach so that our teams are able to hit the ground running, whatever the sector, whatever the requirements.

So at a time of national and international crisis - which in itself demands a rapid response - what’s the secret to ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction?

A purpose-led response

Imbuing a project with purpose and meaning is fundamental to the development of a high performing team. And while that’s easier said than done, credible, sincere and believable messaging can go a long way toward building that common purpose.

This was the case for the Mace team working on the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Messaging for the Games translated to the CLM delivery team around inspiring the next generation, fostering a sense of pride in the project and in building a lasting legacy for the local community. This approach created a sense of collaboration and like-mindedness that kept the team motivated and focused, throughout the demanding build.

When working on projects of critical national importance (like the Nightingale Hospitals in 2020 for example) the messaging was undoubtedly easier to communicate to a team. But drawing out how everyone had an important role to play – from the person manning the gates, to the package managers coordinating supplies of materials, it was vital that each member of the team understood how their role fit within the bigger picture (like a giant jigsaw) to ensure the project as a whole was a success.

Partnering with the best

Partnering with other organisations means we can solve problems in fresh ways – whether it’s working faster, smarter, more sustainably, or anything else that creates better outcomes for our clients and wider stakeholders. But it’s also true that working with partners who come to the table with a different approach, culture and mindset can be a challenge. So quickly finding common ground and building a collaborative working environment is just as important as developing a purpose-led approach.

At Mace, working closely with the client from the off has been a key factor in securing the appointment of like-minded, culturally aligned organisations. From our work with other UK companies as part of the UK-Peruvian Government to Government programme to deliver the Lima 2019 Pan American and Parapan American Games to creating new state-of-the-art learning facilities for The London School of Economics, partnerships are key.

And when there’s limited time to engage partners, strong pre-existing relationships are crucial. Working on the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory, we were able to bring in colleagues from HOK and WSP (our design and engineering partners), who we have not only worked with before but are experts in their field and helped to get the team up and running at pace.

Strong leadership and positive reinforcement

While project teams will have forums to discuss and resolve issues, we have found having a strong leadership team and a dedicated leadership forum – including the client, consultants and contractors – means that emerging issues can be escalated and resolved quickly, keeping the programme on track. Again, this goes back to everyone having a common purpose, enabling a focus on outcomes that motivates individuals and organisations to find solutions to problems.

Indeed, the role of the leadership is not solely for resolving issues, but is also pivotal in maintaining the momentum of a project - by providing positive reinforcement about the importance of the work being undertaken. Transparency and communication are key components of strong leadership, essential in building and maintaining trust across a team.

Innovate to deliver

Teams need to be creative and think laterally to deliver complex projects and programmes. On the Rosalind Franklin Laboratory, for instance, fast delivery times were critical as the client required operational labs in a fraction of normal industry timeframes.

The project team worked together to develop a clear digital delivery strategy and coordinated work across building services, planning and BIM in order to resolve design issues quickly and reduce project risk in the tight timeframe.

Leveraging modern methods of construction and early engagement of the specialist supply chain supported the design strategy to drive fast track construction and a progressive handover strategy. This enabled the facility to start operating early and on a phased basis while construction progressed. 

A project of this scale typically takes two to three years to develop but, through a strong team and leadership with a shared purpose, commitment to innovation and sheer hard work, the team slashed this to under 12 months, with construction on the first lab lines completed in three months, ready to be set up for testing. So while success is never easy to achieve, putting in those efforts with the team gives any project the very best chance.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The delivery of a complex project relies on a team’s performance at every single milestone and so ultimately, ensuring a team is set up for success will always yield results – both before, during and after a crisis.

The highest performing teams are shaped by a shared purpose, collaborative culture and strong leadership, all of which enable a rapid response. And so, even as we constantly strive to innovate and evolve as an industry, we also mustn’t forget that the most important part of any project is its people – and that they will always be the key to building a better future.

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