As the mining and resources sector continues to evolve in Australia companies are frequently seeking innovative ways to deliver major and mega capital works projects more efficiently and effectively. Joint ventures and alliances are becoming more common and can prove very successful, however, it is not uncommon for such partnerships to stumble when faced with challenges, becoming adversarial and unproductive. Essentially, when the ‘going gets tough’ entities seek to protect their own commercial interests and thus revert to governance by contract rather than by open communication and best-for-project decisions.
If a project is established and maintained well, however, a collaborative approach can ensure mutual benefit and a successful outcome for all. This is true for projects of all sizes and across industries and sectors.
TMS Consulting recently completed a long-term organisational development program with a large, Queensland-based resource project within a joint venture setting. Recognising that this project is currently on track to deliver to schedule and within budget expectations, TMS took the opportunity to reflect on the success of the project and consider the impact of the organisational development initiatives. What enabled this project to rise above the challenges it encountered, thereby setting it apart from other like-projects?
TMS was engaged by the senior leaders when the project was still in its Start-Up Phase and so there was an opportunity to embed organisational development and culture as a key factor for success. As shown by Margaret Wheatley’s work and other relevant research (Wheatley, 1999), there was equal attention to the non-rational elements of project delivery, namely the culture, leadership and values as there was to the rational elements, such as systems, standards and procedures. This was no mean feat in an organisation comprising a significant number of engineers and in a traditional construction environment!
Commitment from senior leaders enabled the focus and the work undertaken by TMS supported the development and effectiveness of the team. Embedding a ‘best for project’ ethos right from the start and engaging staff in this was essential.
As the project comprised multiple companies, an early decision taken was to establish an integrated leadership team comprising representatives from both the client and contractors. This enabled a single unifying proposition and project values to be developed which were endorsed by all, thus creating a sense of cohesion. Further to this, leaders were encouraged to be visible in their leadership and role-model the project values.
To ensure effective team performance at all levels of the organisation, not only amongst the senior leaders, a single delivery team approach was endorsed and championed by the integrated leadership team, meaning that staff were encouraged to identify themselves as project team members, rather than belonging simply to their parent company.
This created a sense of lateral integration across teams, functions and entities. In line this with best-for-project decisions were encouraged at all levels of the project. It was not uncommon to hear the term ‘pain share, gain share’.
Aware that multiple companies were involved in this joint venture it was easy for project information to become lost in the ‘white noise’ of parent company messaging. Formal communication channels and a dedicated communications role were established to ensure consistency and clarity in project-specific communications, thus helping to embed a performance team culture.
How do we know these initiatives made a difference? We recognise that the outcomes are not purely attributable to organisational development activity, however, not only is the project tracking on time and to budget, but when challenges have been encountered the leaders and teams have worked cooperatively to resolve them in a timely fashion. In addition to this, high staff satisfaction levels have been achieved throughout the life of the project. The fact that staff consistently report that they are willing to go over and above what is expected of them in their role and that they enjoy being a part of the project is very encouraging.
Regardless of the size or nature of a project, significant, positive impacts on the bottom line can be achieved through ongoing attention to the non-rational components of project delivery. While companies and projects often think they can’t afford to invest in ‘the soft stuff’, the challenge posed is to consider what happens if they don’t. What does an unnecessary workforce stand-down, contractual dispute or dysfunctional workplace relationship cost your organisation or project?
Whether in the start-up phase or during execution, TMS partners with organisations and projects to develop a performance framework centred on the principles of organisational development to position them for successful outcomes in terms of budget, time and quality. Not only are there tangible benefits, but it can make the journey enjoyable and fulfilling for all involved.
Wheatley, M. J. (1999), Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, Second Edition, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.