Martina Asbury Senior Advisor
Martina Asbury works with business, operations and project teams to support the planning, execution and control of large capital projects to achieve business objectives and...
“The strength of the pack is the wolf. The strength of the wolf is the pack.”
– Rudyard Kipling, Law of the Jungle
On capital projects, strong leadership is required to unite the various functions, organizations, and companies around a common goal and clear priorities. Leaders must work together, often in layered leadership teams, to balance competing interests and present a united front.
Key relationships and expectations must be managed with intention, both internal to the Owner Project Team and between the Owner and Engineering/Procurement/Construction contractors, subcontractors, vendors and material suppliers. Misalignment is evidenced by work backlogs, schedule delays, rework, unclear decisions, and even safety problems.
Strong project leaders recognize that they set the tone; they establish the “project brand”; they must listen to the team and then make timely, tough decisions. As has often been said, “the soft stuff is really the hard stuff.”
Team integration in capital projects is a natural outcome of strong project leadership, long recognized in industry as the primary determinant of project success. By focusing on relationships, building trust and transparency, and creating a culture characterized by open communication and a willingness to constructively embrace conflict, a leader positions the team to deliver predicable outcomes.
Such leaders purposefully allocate at least half of their time interacting with individual team members and sub-teams, sometimes termed “management by walking (flying) around” – getting to know and appreciate each person’s contribution, motivation and barriers to personal effectiveness. This informs the leader on how best to channel energy; to promote cross-functional collaboration and to proactively resolve emergent barriers to performance.
Those leaders who cannot or will not commit themselves to deterministically creating such a project execution environment inside their own team and across contractor and supplier team interfaces, find themselves (unfortunately) caught up in the blame game, dispute resolution and damage control.
Together Each Accomplishes More (TEAM)
This acronym captures the essence of human synergy. It recognizes the ways team members need each other. As obvious as this interdependency between functions, disciples and companies is, project leaders often neglect the importance of relationships in project execution. No single function or discipline can deliver a project. No single contractor or service provider can deliver a project.
Technical interfaces and risks are managed with rigor. Data interfaces are now recognized as an essential element of life cycle optimization of an asset. The buzz today is the digital ecosystem, predictive algorithms that promote machine learning, field mobility tools, among others – basically, a technology revolution that will undoubtedly harness the power of data integration to eliminate human error in manual data transfer, reduce rework, and reduce risk.
As much as digital tools promote transparency and collaboration, they do not replace the need for individuals, sub-teams, and execution parties to engage in high quality interactions.
Team integration has a ripple effect: the first circle being the core Owner Project Leadership Team; the next circle being the expanded Owner Project Team; the next circle being the interfaces with key contractors and key suppliers. All of which is driven by the role model and investment of the Owner.
The Unveiling of a High Performing Team
Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Project team members are usually equipped with the necessary technical competencies to deliver. What often requires reinforcement are interpersonal skills, such as listening, collaborating, decision-making, communicating, and resolving conflict.
Key elements of an effective team should include:
Often team members are energized because they feel they can take risks, innovate, learn from outside ideas, and achieve something that matters—often against the odds.
In every case where a team is delivering results, trust, or lack thereof, is prevalent. Put quite simply, trust is the belief of one person (or party) that another person (or party) is acting in his/her best interest and is considering his/her needs in decisions that are made. It is the confidence that one person has in another person’s commitment to the relationship.
In his book Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey states, “Trust impacts us 24/7, 365 days per year. It underpins and affects the quality of every relationship, every communication, every work project, every business venture, and every effort in which we are engaged. Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather trust is pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create. “
Thus, as this article began, we circle back to project leadership creating this “asset of trust.” In fact, practicing the very behaviors they want to be visible in their direct reports: a shared purpose, transparent communication, respecting differences in others, valuing ideas and contributions of others, and keeping commitments. Leaders must themselves move from a “group of leaders” to a true “leadership team.”