Applying the lessons learned by successful national sporting teams can help UK construction firms to win work overseas, argues Will Reddaway.
In many sporting disciplines every four years sportspeople come together to determine who is the best in the world. Whether it be football, rugby, cricket or athletics, to succeed internationally sportspeople need to put local and national rivalries aside and join together in a common purpose to take on the globe.
In recent years we are starting to see this team mentality adopted much more widely in the business and political environment. We are now seeing much more pan regional co-operation as towns and cities across the north and Midlands put centuries of opposition behind them to present themselves as globally competitive and globally attractive investment opportunities.
By working together across a wider regional scale area like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine we can generate international awareness, recognition and investment. The Scottish government has done this particularly effectively by creating a ‘Team Scotland’ approach with the development of its airline routes and providing a united front for aviation partners seeking public sector insight and support.
McKinsey found that the world spent $9.5 trillion, or 14% of global GDP, on infrastructure in 2015. Pre-Covid global construction spend was set to rise 45% by 2030, when the global construction and infrastructure market is forecast to be worth $17.5 trillion a year.
As a country plotting a post-Brexit future against a backdrop of Covid-19, Britain can redefine itself by delivering a new generation of infrastructure around the world. British businesses stand a better chance of winning that work if we work together.
As Jason Millett, CEO of consultancy at Mace has outlined, the UK has the opportunity to create a role for itself by helping countries across the world to improve how they build. Having largely missed the huge productivity gains seen in other industries over the past 40 years, infrastructure is now finally waking up the transformative impact of the next generation of infrastructure technology and innovation.
As the new lead for the Infrastructure Industry Innovation Partnership, I want i3P to become a force for change in the industry and break down the barriers to innovation by creating closer, more collaborative links between infrastructure clients and contractors with the long-term aspiration of being able to export that knowledge internationally.
Nations that best embrace change will be the most successful in the coming decades. To create transformative change, we need to identify new ways of doing things. “Fail fast, fail often” is one of the best-known mantras from Silicon Valley, widely acknowledged as the most innovative region on earth. By failing quickly and using data to identify failure, businesses can capture learning, make changes and try again.
We need to encourage SMEs and start-ups into the sector to bring forward new and different perspectives and approaches to solving our problems. Importantly we must give our industry a space to fail. Right first time is critical to on-time and on budget project delivery. But having an offline space to learn, train, explore and be creative is equally as important.
This is why i3P is of critical importance, as a place where both clients and the supply chain have skin in the game, and where developments, progress, learnings, can be captured and shared. To make British infrastructure expertise world-beating we must take pride in working collaboratively and sharing each other’s homework to drive improvement.
Innovation transcends our industry and I’m convinced that much can be learned from how other sectors such as automotive, healthcare, defence and tech sector advance change. Following a recent panel interview with representatives of the World Health Organisation, I shared insights and ideas on business culture, innovation, learning, leadership, intrapreneurship and the importance of delivering tangible solutions across a business not just in silos.
While my knowledge is firmly planted in infrastructure, I believe the challenges and conversations focus on harnessing three key elements to drive innovation no matter which industry you’re working in – people, skills and culture.
I think one of the biggest challenges facing infrastructure is that we've not found the space to flex our creative minds on key issues to generate transformative solutions. i3P is perfectly placed to facilitate that creative collaboration. So, how do we foster the spirit of collective collaboration and innovation?
In encouraging collaboration and innovation on Crossrail I found that if we put health and safety at the forefront of our minds it can transcend the badges of the companies we work for. Ultimately projects within the Crossrail programme of works were joint ventures, effectively teammates to fulfil the contractual obligations, but also working alongside one another, with client teams who were also on site. This colocation and de-badging of teams created a sense of unity and shared purpose.
Our industry has come together like never before in order to coordinate a way through the Coronavirus crisis. As the International Monetary Fund estimates the world will take a $12 trillion hit from Covid-19 it is time for the British infrastructure industry to focus on our shared common goal of delivering better infrastructure for society more quickly and working together to increase the value of British infrastructure exports.
As I lead i3P into a new decade I believe there are further opportunities for collaboration beyond our geographic and sectoral borders which will deliver further innovation and I want to elaborate on this further in the coming months. If we can create a Team GB approach to infrastructure delivery and work together towards a common goal, we will achieve more for our country, our industry and our individual businesses than we will do if we work alone.
Let’s work together to make it happen.
Will Reddaway is the senior lead at the Infrastructure Industry Innovation Partnership (i3P).