Experts discuss why construction collaborations fail

Establishing an agreed framework based on mutually shared values is crucial, contractors and consultants tell Leaders UAE 2018 audience

A shared corporate vision is critical for the success of construction partnerships, experts say [representational image].
A shared corporate vision is critical for the success of construction partnerships, experts say [representational image].
The panel at Leaders UAE included experts from Hill International, ALEC, Besix, Khatib and Alami, and Arabtec Construction,
The panel at Leaders UAE included experts from Hill International, ALEC, Besix, Khatib and Alami, and Arabtec Construction,

Establishing an agreed framework with aligned corporate cultures, based on mutually shared values, is crucial to ensuring collaborative success.

This was universally agreed by an expert panel of Middle East contractors and consultants at the Construction Week: Leaders in Construction Summit UAE 2018, who said that a strong  corporate culture, based on a common vision and with specific performance goals, would benefit firms across the UAE. The topic, touched on at the ninth iteration of the conference, was made more pertinent by the number of leading developers in the UAE that are joining forces to deliver future projects at both the local and international level.

These include the joint venture (JV) of Dubai-based Emaar Properties and Abu Dhabi's Aldar, which signed a deal to develop $8.2bn (AED30bn) worth of UAE and international projects; and the JV of Dubai's Nakheel and Surooq, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, which is developing a retail centre worth $20.4m (AED75m) in Sharjah.

Chaired by Andy Syms, president for Middle East sales at construction consultancy Hill International, the summit's panel brought together UAE-based construction consulting and engineering heavyweights to discuss what major factors determine project success in the UAE and, specifically, how to ensure all parties work towards the same goal to keep projects on budget and on time.

“You have to pick your partner very carefully, and I think you have to complement each other," said Kez Taylor, chief executive officer of UAE contracting firm ALEC. “If you put two similar people together, often they clash. But if they are complementary – and maybe slightly different – at the end of the day, they work well together."

He said that potential partners can judge the way each other operates, and what their business style is, almost immediately. “If you are similar, you are going to work well together. It is not about just the technical issues – it is also about putting a team together that is, from a business perspective, culturally similar.”

Co-panellist Pierre Sironval, managing director of Six Construct, part of Besix Group, agreed that finding the right partner was a critical aspect of construction project collaboration, adding that the right partner would lead to “a win-win” situation for all stakeholders.

Joining Taylor and Sironval on stage was Boyd Merrett, chief executive officer of Arabtec Holding subsidiary, Arabtec Construction. He argued that the “number one barrier to collaboration is a lack of trust – not being open or sharing information".

"The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts," he added. "That trust deficit is the key to unlocking their differences – sharing, being sincere, and being able to [work together]. It is about being open, respectful, and sharing ideas."

With this in mind, Merrett said one of his main working principles was meeting people and engaging with them as much as possible. Regular contact, whether with his team or a client, was critical to building trust between project stakeholders, he said. “If you want to be a [good] leader, you have to understand the client’s point of view. And it is fundamental to success  to understand what they want, how their business works, and then to try and help them achieve their own objectives," he added.

Establishing what Steve Edmondson, senior director for Dubai at Beirut-headquartered engineering consultancy Khatib and Alami, referred to as “the rules of engagement” was another factor leading to collaborative success. 

“The biggest battle is the battle to set up the rules,” he told the audience at the Construction Week summit. “Once you have set up the rules of engagement, you will know how to work within that environment, and then collaboration will come. 

"Often the speed of what we are doing here – in Dubai, especially – means that we do not have time to set up solid foundations, to be able to build a platform for people to collaborate solidly.”

Edmonson added that time was sometimes "spent in the wrong areas", with more discipline needed at the start of a project to avoid this scenario. “We can never have a job where everyone is going to like each other, respect each other, and it goes smoothly,” he said.

"Technically, or resources-wise, you could be delivering fantastically, but there might be an emotional issue between two people. That is when sponsors really need to be committed to [a common goal] and say, ‘This is not working. You get rid of your [employee], I will get rid of mine, and we will bring in new faces’."

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