Creating a positive team culture on a project deadline

Here at Collingwood, we are no strangers to the assessment and development of team culture and the importance of all parties sharing the same values and common purpose.

Every projects based client I have met with recently has discussed the need to have an engaged and driven team. Whilst culture and purpose is considered a fundamental key to success internally and, in many cases is a factor for supplier selection of major contracts, I question, to what extent does culture suffer in a time sensitive and pressurised project environment?

HS2 commented at a recent supplier roadshow that cultural fit would play a large part in their supplier selection focus.  I agree this should be the case, because what is the point of engaging a partner who doesn’t fit with your way of working or share a similar set of values? However, whilst this is possible in the lengthy procurement process of a major project’s tier 1 contract award. I wonder if the same can be said further down the project pipeline when contract winners will be expected to hit the ground running with minimal prior notice.

A similar thought crossed my mind in recent weeks when speaking to a large train operating company about their team selection for franchise awards.  There is a dilemma in having a strong enough team in place to secure a solid offering, against the more urgent hiring process following contract award.

This problem isn’t just limited to Rail. I can remember having a conversation with a well-known Marine Construction Company about the benefit of having an in-depth recruitment and talent mapping strategy in place to ensure the most suitable candidates are selected, not just from a technical perspective but also via cultural and personal alignment. The idea, whilst welcomed from an idealist perspective, was deemed invalid commercially. The client was unable to justify an upfront and ongoing cost for a project team they would only need if successful in a contract award. However, I would argue that the client can’t afford not to have a plan in place. Yes, there would be some costs or engagement needed prior to the project award but what would the fallout be from not having a team in place should the contact come their way? It reminds me of the quote by Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

So, another question! How do you culturally align a team which needs to be engaged and productive with minimal prior notice?

I feel there isn’t an ideal answer to this. If project deadlines are to be achieved and, for one reason or another, talent mapping or internal capability isn’t an option, then you can only work with the cards you have been dealt. 

In this scenario, companies will have to hire technically and create culture. As the alternative could be disastrous. I know there are many famous business leaders and online social media posters, who are forever stating you should hire on character and ambition, not on technical ability.  But I wouldn’t use this argument if building a nuclear power station or air traffic control centre.  In certain professions, technical skills trump people skills!

So how do you create a team, a culture and a common purpose from a selection of individuals acquired and bundled together on the back of their skills rather than character?

There are multiple ways to do this, you only need to look at the variety of management styles in the sporting environment to know how many different ways success can be achieved.  From the famous hairdryer treatment of Sir Alex to the reserved arrogance of José Mourinho’s approach. Both methods have delivered success and, whilst on the outside things may seem as incompatible as oil and water, I would suggest that the basic methodology will be strikingly similar and will include common goals and shared vision of the future. Looking internally to identify and acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and forming an environment which supports and protects potential risk areas.

Creating a winning team isn’t a one size fits all solution, teams are fluid and evolve day to day. For success to be created a period of assessment needs to take place. Leaders need to see, to learn, to understand, before applying solutions. This level of understanding is essential and the ability to identify the best solution for your unique need a key skill and one which holds a great value.

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