16 December 2020

Collaboration: the strongest link in the chain

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The construction industry has come a long way over the past ten years. What was once considered a fragmented sector has become increasingly focused on the need for quality, innovation and partnership, and as we emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, the industry is more united. At the same time, the UK Government is positioning construction to play a leading role in the economic recovery post-Covid-19, along with its commitment to wipe out the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050. This is a great opportunity for timber.


With an increase in sustainable building, and independent bodies such as the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) stating that using timber is one of the most effective ways to reduce emissions, many contractors will be looking to use timber for applications where they might have previously used higher carbon materials such as concrete or steel. These sometimes complex timber projects are a new venture for many and, with insurers becoming even more risk averse, the onus is on project teams to demonstrate quality, expertise and consistent best practice in a joined-up way to provide reassurance.


On top of this, safety and efficiency are under heightened scrutiny, and clients will want to ensure that they are getting value for money throughout the supply chain. As liability of the project changes hands and tasks are subcontracted, there is a risk that, without proper oversight, building quality and performance may be compromised. Poor thermal efficiency, indoor air quality, moisture and overheating are important performance factors, which can be negatively affected by poor workmanship and material selection. Timber is incredibly effective and long-lasting, but it must be designed, treated and installed appropriately.


As projects become more complex and new technologies are introduced, it is crucial that close collaboration is maintained throughout the duration. Collaborative working is something that has long been championed in the timber industry, but while the benefits of working in partnership are plentiful, there can be challenges. If the collaboration is a simple business relationship, there can be problems with merging cultures, lack of engagement and eventual dissatisfaction or even conflict. The solution is a more standardised approach to improve consistency.


Working together for mutual benefit

A more formal approach to collaboration is the way forward, but people and businesses need to know how to do it properly. A management system such as ISO 440011 can facilitate the development of a collaborative culture.


Collaborative working is defined by the Institute of Collaborative Working (ICW) as a business relationship formed by committed organisations to maximise joint performance for the achievement of mutual objectives and the creation of additional value.


The benefits include:

  • better problem solving
  • reputational gains
  • customer satisfaction
  • increased trust
  • business performance
  • innovation
  • continuous improvement
  • better supply chain relationships
  • new skills development
  • customer retention
  • lower operating costs


ISO 44001 is the first international standard to address collaborative business relationships. The aim of the standard is to provide a framework to ensure collaborative relationships are effective and optimised. It supports the relationship through a clear set of principles that can be adapted to guarantee that it is well managed, enabling partners to effectively share knowledge, skills and resources to meet mutually defined objectives.


If done well, collaboration can lead to better project outcomes, a more efficient delivery of schemes, improved business performance and greater client satisfaction. It provides better access to skills and knowledge from a wider team of people, and ultimately reduces costs and can result in increased profit. Increasingly, collaboration is becoming a necessity rather than an option, and organisations should be reviewing their collaborative strategy on a regular basis.


Implementing an ISO 44001 management system

The collaborative life cycle is based on an eight-stage model, but the three most important parts of the process are:

  • sharing knowledge
  • shared objectives
  • exit strategy.


Phase one: sharing knowledge

The ability to share knowledge with partners is one of the benefits of collaborative working. This can be exciting, yet there is often nervousness around the sharing of business intelligence and the protection of intellectual property. This creates a challenge for businesses as they set out what can and cannot be shared.


The benefits of working closely with a partner can only be fully realised when both parties commit to sharing their individual experiences and knowledge. However, it should also be clearly defined at the outset who will own any jointly created intellectual property.


Collaborative behaviours should include:

  • information sharing, constructive questioning, open and honest feedback
  • communicating effectively, consistently, openly, honestly and in a responsive manner
  • learning from and sharing experiences
  • understanding and supporting others in the achievement of their own goals
  • balancing risk and reward when considering innovation and future opportunities
  • showing respect and consideration for all partners, including considering the impact of actions upon others.


To ensure that all parties are comfortable with the setup, partners should be thoroughly researched and correctly selected so that the organisations are complementary.


Phase two: shared objectives

Without shared, mutual objectives, the collaboration is unlikely to succeed.


There are many areas to consider before entering the arrangement and a great deal more to add when collaborator(s) have been selected. Each business needs to know:

  • what they are going to work on together
  • the added value that it will bring
  • what they are hoping to achieve from the relationship.


All parties should have the same goals from the outset. In every relationship, there will undoubtedly be three sets of objectives – ‘yours’, ‘mine’ and ‘ours’. A strong collaboration will acknowledge all three and work towards achieving them all. Each party should work together to understand its own objectives, as well as establishing a dialogue around the common objectives and goals. They may not all be the same, but they should be complementary, as misalignment with mutual objectives may cause the relationship to fail.


Once the partnership has been identified, there should be a joint recognition and blending of common and individual organisation objectives, and ongoing monitoring to ensure delivery. Providing the performance that was initially agreed is a critical aspect of any relationship.


Understanding the objectives and drivers for collaboration is an essential part of the process. If they are not well defined, it becomes difficult to communicate the rationale for the collaboration, which leads to challenges keeping everyone engaged.


Phase three: exit strategy

While it may seem counter-intuitive to start a collaboration by planning the dissolution of the partnership, an exit strategy is extremely important. It should form part of the process from the outset, with specific triggers agreed for starting a ‘controlled disengagement’ if the need arises.


Rather than setting the arrangement up with an expectation to fail, incorporating an exit strategy builds confidence between partners. It sets boundaries for the collaboration, demonstrating an understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable. It is also an opportunity to recognise any potential conflict that could arise over the course of the relationship.


The collaborative relationship should be monitored and evaluated against the initial shared objectives. If the relationship is not properly maintained or objectives are not achieved, this must be rectified immediately, otherwise the exit strategy should be triggered.



The timber industry is ideally placed to take advantage of collaborative working. It brings together a broad set of skills, taking in multiple stakeholders and widely spread supply chains. Working together effectively using a clear framework, such as ISO 44001, can increase efficiencies, innovation and the sharing of best practice – and ultimately, profit. It can also improve business performance, customer satisfaction and customer retention.


With more people recognising the benefits of building with timber, this is an exciting time to be in the industry: working together for a brighter, more sustainable future.


About the author

Andy Green, Business Development Director, BM TRADA


This is an extract from the new Timber 2020/2021 Industry Yearbook Online. Download the full article, including supporting images, references and further reading, here