As businesses and projects compete to secure the best resources, Mark Halstead explores whether an unintended consequence of the last recession is that we’re all now having to work harder to get the best out of our project teams.

In twenty years of delivering major projects, I’ve not yet met a client that didn’t want an A Team. And rightly so. Behind each project is the personal commitment and belief of key individuals, frequently aligning their own professional success with project outcomes. But are there enough A Teams to go round? Balance of probability, or even just statistical distribution, suggests this is somewhat unlikely.

We’re all hugely aware of the impact that the last recession has had on the construction sector. A massive reduction in turnover, and the subsequent turmoil across the whole industry, did very little to sway bright young things towards a career in construction. Experienced professionals called time on their careers, retiring, relocating, or re-engineering themselves in other less turbulent sectors. And as the market has picked up over the last two or three years – with varying degrees of enthusiasm – here we are with not enough good people to go round. Couple this with the unique characteristic of construction, that someone will always say they can do it better, faster, cheaper, and you have a perfect storm of over optimistic objectives, inconsistent project teams, and challenging pricing levels.

I’ve recently had the unpleasant challenge of trying to help turn around a failing project. It started life with the best of intentions, but with poorly defined site information, a questionable procurement route and an inappropriate contractor choice, it was painful to see the frustration of the client team, struggling to make their scheme work. This made me pause for thought about how we can all set up our projects to give them the best chance of success.

Very obviously, projects are about people working together effectively – although there is a school of thought that says if everyone could do their job properly, you’d need a lot less project managers.  Whether you subscribe to that or not, choosing a team that you can work with for a prolonged period of time is a solid starting point. It shouldn’t all be about technical capability either – procuring a team that is capable of enjoying working together is often the missing ingredient.

Once you have your team, clearly articulating your project objectives and being realistic with what can be achieved for the budget in the time frame is paramount. Clients taking early advice on feasibility, defining the project parameters and allowing teams the freedom to come up with innovative solutions are by default, going to lead to better outcomes. Rushing a scheme because you need to meet an in-year cash flow spend, or because it fell off the corner of someone’s desk for a few months, isn’t.

And finally, show your team some love. The majority of professionals I’ve met want to do a good job, get paid (roughly on time), and have a client say something nice about them at the end. Invest in your chosen team, take time to build honest relationships, and actually encourage them to enjoy what they’re doing. Allow the team to feel empowered that what they’re developing will make a difference to you and your business, and they’re then emotionally involved and committed to you. Get them to that place and your chance of success will rocket, regardless of what the market is doing.

Mark is Essentia’s Deputy Director of Capital Development, and Head of Project & Programme Management.