Getting the team culture right


Delivery of construction projects is improved, and the number of errors reduced, when the right working culture exists. The right culture encourages and rewards behaviours such as collaboration, adaptive behaviour, inclusivity, leadership and good communication.

Why is it important?

  • Would you tell your client that you had doubts about delivering something that was within your brief? How confident would you be that they would accept the position and work with you to find the best solution? Or would you be afraid that they would dispense with your services and appoint someone else?
  • If another supplier had problems which were jeopardising progress on the project, would you offer to help even it meant extra time or cost for you?

Such dilemmas are all too prevalent in the construction industry, but they are less likely to arise, and quicker to resolve within an open and transparent team culture. The right culture makes it acceptable to ask questions; to admit that you don’t know something; to criticise (positively) and to make suggestions even if they fall outside your own organisation’s brief.

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

Establishing and sustaining the right culture

Establishing the appropriate culture is the first challenge. While there is no simple recipe for this, one essential ingredient is clear leadership and the presence of a client who demonstrates a commitment to collaborative working. Choosing people and organisations with similar values helps, as does selection of processes and systems that support the culture.

Sustaining this ethos is also part of the challenge. People work together and build trust if they are in the right environment, but when staff move on, how can all the important cultural facets of transparency, openness and honesty be retained?

It certainly helps if the culture is embedded within each organisation rather than relying on any one individual. But it needs more than this. Every construction project involves a vast number of organisations, so it is important to create a structure that allows all parties to establish a sense of ownership. In this way, the needs of the project subsume those of the individual organisations.

There is no text book way of achieving this. Contracts determine the nature of projects and certain forms are designed to enhance the right culture, which can help. In spite of the fact that most projects are procured using ‘non-collaborative’ forms of contract, some are still able to achieve the right culture.

Recognising the hallmarks of good working culture

In its simplest form, the right culture empowers project team members to make decisions and take actions within their own areas of expertise; these must work in unison with the thousands of other decisions and actions taking place across the project. All parties should have a shared vision of the end-state, but be trusted to take decisions within a clear framework.

A change in mindset is needed so that the outcome is all that matters. However faultless the calculations, or beautiful the drawings, unless every element is built and handed over in working order, the project is a failure. This underlines the link to the real world of construction and delivery, and breaks down some of the organisational and contractual barriers that have been identified.

A clearly-defined intent outlines what the project wants to achieve and why, and is normally expressed in terms of effects and desired outcomes. It should be written in a language that all members of the team, from directors to operatives, will understand. This binds the entire project team together and forms a benchmark for all subsequent decision making.

Improvements in communication and mutual understanding can be achieved by making it standard practice for team members to conduct back-briefing at an agreed time or stage. The individuals receiving information give a synopsis of the information they have just received, allowing the person who gave the information to ensure that their message was properly understood, and clarify it if not.

Key goal

To create and sustain the right working culture.

Practical steps

Practical stepPurposeFurther information
Establish a clearly-defined intent for what the project wants to achieve and whyTo bind the entire project team together and form the benchmark for all subsequent decision makingGIRI project workshops
Reinforce the focus on outcomesTo underline the link to the real world of construction and delivery, and break down organisational and contractual barriersGIRI project workshops
Adopt the process of back-briefingTo improve communication and mutual understandingBrief