At the heart

For Russell Stillwell, collaboration is a key component to growing a successful business in the construction industry. He discusses how and why collaboration should be embraced throughout all levels of our industry

Collaboration: For many people this word signifies partnership. It represents cooperation. We use the word every day to describe projects we’ve worked on. We talk about how we’ve collaborated with clients and suppliers to deliver the end result. For me, collaboration encompasses much more than this.

We are part of an industry which can often be quite fragmented. There can be limited or no integration between design and construction processes. Suppliers and contractors come and go on a project. Different teams often work very separately from each other. Sometimes a lack of synergy and understanding can lead to problems further down the line.

Commercial game playing, finger pointing and a bullying culture often occurs in high pressurised environments. Ultimately, this can have devastating consequences for businesses and the individuals in them. It can cause a domino effect, having a huge impact further down the chain and hitting the bottom line hard. The quality of a job suffers. Corners get cut. Problems arise halfway through a project. Invoices don’t get paid. The cracks begin to show. Suddenly, collaboration becomes unrecognisable in a sea of blame.

The collapse of Carillion is an example of what could go wrong when collaboration takes a back seat. I believe it has provided the construction industry with an opportunity to adapt and learn.

Collaboration should be something which runs through the veins of our sector. It should be recognised as something which is deeper than simply working together. Something which could bring benefits on many different levels.

When we collaborate, we accomplish greater clarity. Long lasting relationships can be formed at its foundations. A sense of trust is forged between clients and suppliers, and even entire project teams. Every link in the chain feels listened to and valued. But, how can this be realised throughout the construction industry?

Embrace technology
When combined with the latest technology, collaboration becomes easier to achieve. Innovation can be used in a unique way to enhance project culture, design and installation processes – this leads to cost and time savings. It can help enhance communication between each level of the process and consequently, it should be adopted by every team at every stage.

One example of this is BIM technology. The process of creating and managing a project from the word go means that everyone is on the same page at every step of the journey. BIM models provide transparency on what is required to make the process quicker and easier. They ensure an efficient means of removing grey matter from the construction process through the creation of black or white results. They provide a more streamlined and accurate approach to project design. An increase in efficiency and a reduction in pressure are just two examples of the benefits this approach to technological collaboration can bring.

A heightened focus on collaboration has an impact on the wellbeing of people within our industry. As the MD of a busy business, it’s important that I always have my finger on the pulse. I need to stay one step ahead and have an understanding of the pressures and strains we could face as an organisation. In our industry, daily challenges can leave us and our colleagues feeling stressed and out of control. This can have a serious and detrimental effect on mental health.

One Team
We go to great lengths to assess hazards and put in place risk assessments associated with mitigating physical harm. I believe the entire industry needs to work collaboratively in order to mitigate mental illness and break down the stigma attached to it. As a sector, we need to recognise the signs. We need to work together in order to provide the support and help to prevent individuals adding to the horrifying statistics that exist with mental health.

That’s why at RSE we adopt a ‘One Team’ approach. We work collaboratively as a business from the MD right through to the apprentices. We follow a clear and effective workflow process. As a result, everyone involved with the project has clarity and this has a positive impact on the way that any job runs. Budgets can be adhered to and managed with optimised effect. Outstanding results can be achieved. But, perhaps most importantly, pressure and stress is reduced throughout the entire chain.

Yet this focus on collaboration should not be limited to the construction industry of today. As the next generation steps into our shoes, it’s important that these values are instilled into our workforce from a young age. Education is key.

Young, agile minds that are eager to learn could be the answer to safeguarding the industry of the future. Young people of today have had access to technology since they could talk. It’s second nature them. They are open minded and inquisitive. By instilling collaboration as a value and naturally integrating technology at an early age, those entering our industry won’t know any different. Ultimately, creating the digital construction industry with collaboration at its core.

I believe that an even greater collaboration will revolutionise our industry via the introduction of groundbreaking technology. In the near future, I can see a shift in mindset which will have a positive impact on the culture within the sector. We need to be open to change and committed to a more joined up approach. Collaboration needs to be at the heart of all that we do. Collaboration is more than just a word.

Russell Stillwell is Founder and Managing Director of RSE Building Services, a pioneering company that is leading the way in the use of innovation within the construction industry and one of the leading MEP companies in the South East. The business harnesses technology in a unique way to provide and enhance delivery of projects that creates both cost and time savings throughout every stage of the project.