Collaborative working – time to join in

Ben Mullard, Beale and Company

Beale & Company co-hosted a seminar with the Garrick House Network this month examining some of the themes emerging from the industry’s focus on increasingly collaborative ways of working. Here’s a taste of what was discussed from Beale & Company associate Ben Mullard.

Across industry and certainly on some of the larger projects and delivery programmes there is a move towards more inclusive and collaborative approaches and away from traditional adversarial methods of contracting. 

There are various reasons for this shift in focus, including client and wider Government initiatives. 

Approaches to collaboration may be internal, through the use of more collaborative forms of contract, or external, such as the increasing adoption of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the Government Soft Landings initiative (GSL). 

In practice, collaborative working may take a number of forms depending on the project, the client and its requirements and other factors. 

“Behaviours can be as important as the technical and commercial abilities”

For example, a client on a smaller project may want to engender a collaborative relationship without moving to an entirely new form of procurement and opt to use a contract which provides for this as standard. Examples include the NEC3 suite of contracts which includes an obligation on the parties to act in a “spirit of mutual trust and cooperation” and the JCT Constructing Excellence contract which provides for the parties to “work together with each other and with all other project participants in a co-operative and collaborative manner in good faith and in the spirit of trust and respect”. 

It is also possible to include suitable obligations in existing forms of contract, or through the use of separate partnering type agreements or charters (although consideration must then be given to the effect of such provisions and their relationship to existing contractual provisions to ensure the parties’ obligations are clear). 

However, it can be argued that, for some projects (and particularly significant infrastructure projects), the true benefits of collaboration can only begin to be realised when the parties involved take a greater ‘leap of faith’, such as that required by the wholly inclusive “win together/lose together” culture of a pure alliance. 

This concept was first utilised by BP in order to exploit North Sea oil reserves which it had not been possible to access economically using traditional contracting methods. It was subsequently developed enthusiastically on major infrastructure projects in Australia, alliancing is a radical shift from traditional client/supplier relationships. 

Although various approaches may be adopted, ‘pure’ alliancing involves the client becoming an integral member of the delivery team. All participants then work together on a “win together/lose together” basis (that is, no one participant should benefit to the detriment of the others) and adopt a “no blame/no claim” culture which sees them making all decisions on a “best for project” basis. The participants are paid on an actual cost basis with further remuneration possible through gainshare/painshare, assessed by reference to a collective target cost for the whole of the project. 

This highlights one of the key challenges faced by all parties involved in delivering projects more collaboratively. True collaboration depends on the culture and attitudes of the parties involved; it cannot be forced onto participants and enforced through the terms of a contract, but must be embraced and demonstrated at all levels throughout the project. 

These behaviours are often identified and cultivated through the use of extensive behavioural workshops and assessments, which can be as important as the technical and commercial abilities of the participants.