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24/05/2023 – Collaborative working: Nice in theory, but realistic in the construction industry reality?

At its core, collaboration requires teams to work together towards one project goal. Ideally, everyone would be collaborating towards the same project goal with access to the main plans, information and relevant documents without having to rely on others.

Although it is advantageous to make collaboration central across projects, the reality of the traditionally fragmented and competitive construction industry can make it difficult to cultivate trust and collaboration. There is a tendency to meet individual goals rather than the project’s longer team objective with many of the other contractors and consultants viewed, at times, almost as adversaries. There are challenges with getting used to a new system of working, a changing job site and workplace culture as well as potentially higher upfront costs. However, successful collaboration builds trust and has the potential to include fewer variations or re-working, greater chance of on-time delivery of the project, happier clients and higher profits as a result.

So where to start? Developing a more collaborative culture on a project is possible in a number of ways including by changing delivery methods, looking at collaboration within the contract, embracing diversity and understanding, using collaborative tools such as BIM, and focusing on the “human” aspects of each party’s role on the project.

When we turn our attention to developing a collaborative approach on a project for design consultants when being engaged to work with other contractors or consultants, another important aspect to consider is which method of engagement is best to align with this collaborative approach for the project as a whole. Some of the relevant matters to consider would be the capacity of the practice, the size of the project as well as what sort of additional and/or specialist advice will be necessary.

However, the reality remains that each consultant or contractor will (possibly counterintuitively) need to also consider practice’s priorities for the project, the different levels of liability and risk associated with each structure or method of engagement when considering collaboration on a project. For example, is the priority simply the client’s preference regarding how the parties will be engaged? If so, the client will most likely prefer a traditional lead consultant and subconsultant arrangement. If the priority of the practice is to minimise liability for other consultant’s or contractor’s work, then working as independent secondary consultants might be preferred. However, if the importance is placed on collaboration and a true integration of teams and/or where practices share credit and fees equally, an “in association” arrangement supported by a joint venture may be the best approach.

Not only this, but the cultural fit and practice integration including decision making styles, design approaches as well as the sorts of clients each are used to dealing with, will need to be considered, all of which will have an impact on successful collaboration. For this reason, amongst others, each of the parties should have clearly set out in whichever method of engagement they enter into, the defined roles and responsibilities with each party knowing what they are responsible for and to whom, in order to avoid confusion and conflict.

Despite the various potential risks and liabilities that still need to be considered (where legal and tax advice should always be sought on the proposed structure and in some circumstances such as an incorporated JV, you will need notify your insurer), there is a lot to gain from communicating well, building trust and working together for that common project goal. Not only are all those involved happier with the outcome, but the journey to get there through successful collaboration may have just made the process that much more enjoyable for us in doing our part.

This intensive 3-hour webinar – our last event before the 30 June CPD deadline – examines three key structures that underpin relationships on construction projects, each of which can make or break collaboration. Join us on 22 June for Strong Foundations for Collaborations, presented by consultant Kiri Parr, Gavin Crump of BIM Consulting, and informed by Planned Cover’s Risk Manager Felicity Dixon.

22 JUNE 2023

Felicity Dixon
Risk Manager, informed by Planned Cover


This article is only general advice in respect of risk management. It is not tailored to your individual needs or those of your business, nor is it intended to be relied upon as legal or insurance advice. For such assistance you should approach your legal and/or insurance advisors.


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