Working with partners transparently, cooperatively and collaboratively


A collaborative working environment establishes a teamwork approach to getting things right, and is inextricably linked to culture. Team members do their best to help others to fulfil their responsibilities, and are open about areas where they themselves need help. Every project benefits from collaboration, and collaborative working helps to reduce errors.

Why is it important?

Conventional procurement and its predominantly transactional approach has consistently struggled to deliver satisfactory outcomes; as a result, efficiency and quality of work in the construction industry compare poorly with other industries. This is largely because each party is more focused on protecting its own interests than on the success of the project as a whole.

What are the desired outcomes and how can you achieve them?

Establishing a common objective

Collaboration implies that all parties share a common objective. This requires alignment of project objectives to ensure that successful outcomes for each party will result in a successful project.

All parties should also seek to ensure that they have alignment within their own organisations, to eliminate any prospect of conflict between different internal departments.

More often than not, participants have different criteria for success, and therefore the client’s brief should clearly set out the requirements and constraints which will define a successful project. All participants, including third party stakeholders, designers and contractors need to be equally clear as to their measures of success and how they relate to the brief. (See brief and culture).

It does not necessarily follow that parties should be in complete alignment across all areas – as long as it is fully understood how and where objectives differ. Being open and clear about any non-alignment will support the collaborative process.

Participants should discuss and agree how the various success criteria can be aligned if possible. This is where collaboration differs from traditional procurement and it demands a level of trust that is uncommon in hard price, lowest cost contracts.

The alignment process requires a careful analysis of the individual motivations and identification of positive incentives to encourage unity. Again, due to the individual success criteria, the motivations and incentives will be different for each party.

Working collaboratively

Successful collaboration requires, first of all, an appreciation by all parties of the benefits of working collaboratively. Active leadership is the second vital component, and this ideally comes from the client or agents working on behalf of the client. It should be consistent across the supply chain and maintained throughout the project.

There are various ways in which collaborative working may be encouraged, such as the one described below, but all rely on clear and effective communication between all parties. (See information and culture).

Partnering is an approach to the management of construction contracts that encourages collaboration between the parties. The core rationale is to generate co-operation and collaboration so as to engender trust rather than competition between the parties. Partnering arrangements can be put in place so as to impact positively on all parties involved in a project, including the client, contractor, sub-contractors and consultants.

Partnering is sometimes criticised due to the difficulty of establishing common interest between the client and the contractor and other suppliers. While there is some truth in this, it overstates the inevitability of commercial conflict and fails to recognise the behavioural benefits that partnering, and therefore collaborative arrangements can leverage.

The key aspiration is that parties act in the common interests of the project and of each other, discouraging selfish behaviour. At its best, collaboration achieves a result that would not be possible through contract arrangements that characterise projects as a zero-sum game, where one party’s gain is another’s loss.

It is possible to agree some partnering obligations that are binding, whilst other provisions may be aspirational. Whatever type of contract is adopted, pre-project workshops between senior representatives as part of the alignment process can establish measures to support partnering – for example a ‘project charter’ or ‘pledge’.

Once in place, the behaviours of the project participants should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure the desired collaborative culture is being established and is being instilled in new project team members, as well as the supply chain.

As well as helping to achieve a successful project, collaboration enables the formation of strong and long-lasting professional relationships throughout the project and beyond; establishes good practice for future bids; contributes to an organisation’s own corporate goals including sustainability and net zero carbon, and above all, helps to reduce site error and improve productivity.

Key goal

Establish a commitment to collaborative working.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Adopt an appropriate form of contract or consider partnering or a project charter/pledgeTo instil the values of collaboration throughout the life of the project
Introduce pre-stage workshops for senior representatives at the design and construction stagesTo align success criteria and reinforce the requirements of the brief and projectBrief
Introduce behavioural reviews at key project milestonesTo ensure success criteria are being followed and respected