Setting the scene

I embarked on my new placement within a large organisation, not having any experience in how the world of projects are run. I very quickly became just another member of this alliance that was trying to improve the railway. The project was part of a larger programme which was split into several smaller projects. To be honest, I had never heard of an alliance before, so this was new territory for me. For clarification, an alliance is a union or association formed for mutual benefit, especially between countries or organizations.

In this alliance, I observed people’s behaviour, listened to conversations, and became involved with various meetings. Quickly, I became aware that this team was not a fully established team. Each company was working within their own company culture, with most organisations sharing opposing opinions.  I often wondered if we were all on the same team…

What an Alliance can bring

An alliance can bring huge benefits to a project, as you acquire the best talent to own specific parts of the project. A collection of companies which already have a five-star rating being brought together to produce some excellent work.

I could see it in people, the potential, the drive but for some reason they all had barriers up, defence mechanisms stopping them from collaborating. During my placement I experienced that communication is fundamental towards project and organisation’s success. You can forget the processes and procedures because, if you do not have communication and collaborate with team members, all you have is a clever mess.

You don’t have to be friends with who you work with but getting along would help. The main thing you do need is a common goal, something you all want to achieve. Having that common goal brings people together and then the process of forming a team begins. Just like Bruce Tuckman (1965) states in the stages of team development; forming, storming, norming and performing. Each company had gone through the stages already, now they all had to come together as a larger organisation and do it again with many more people.

My Project Team

The people within my team came from various companies within the alliance, some employed some self-employed. We were all different genders, races and ages. But the one thing my team had that the others lacked was trust. We trusted one another, listened, spoke out, we even co-located to sit within a team (which was something of a problem in the alliance, people staying within their company buildings working in silos). And this became our strength, everyone was aware of what everyone was doing at any given point. The team worked together to pull dates in when faced uncertainty with scope. I gained exposure to areas outside the project management field which was a great learning experience for me.

What I took from working in an Alliance

Co-locating to the same office was the best opportunity for the alliance to thrive. Although, this was in the works for a long time it eventually became possible 3 years after the alliance became established. This was a shame as I believe the sooner it could have happened the sooner the alliance could reap the benefits. For my team it proved to be very beneficial, we even won an award at Christmas for being ‘the best team of the year’.

Throughout my time in the alliance we had to take part in an alliance building programme, this was in place to help the team collaborate and work effectively through workshops and one to ones with just your team (for example the commercial team or the planning team). Many people could not be bothered with this and had a negative attitude towards taking part which meant they did not put a 100% into their work and collaboration.

I personally think that the alliance building programmes could be avoided if more work is done at the beginning of creating an alliance, like providing a collaborative working environment, tools, software and equipment merged for the various companies to run smoothly and work together, the rest of it (behaviours) will fall into place. For instance, take Bob from the design company. He cannot send Julie from the Civils company his drawings because they are on a secure software system that only his company use, meaning Julie does not have access to. This sort of thing proves to be a huge failing point, how can you expect a collection of companies to work together if they cannot access one another’s work.

My Reflection

I think that alliances are a great opportunity for excellent work to be achieved. Bringing several people with years of experience together is a massive opportunity to achieve various results and benefits for all companies. But I also believe that alliances are only required on large-scale projects, for the simple reason that a smaller organisation will take on a project that they know they can deliver alone, i.e. they don’t need to bring anyone else on board to sort the commercial side of things. For a larger programme or project which is highly complex and has many factors to reaching the end goal, bringing several specialists in for each area can be worth it. Having another company to take on the Civils side of things can take the load off a company who are not quite knowledgeable in that area, it is a win-win all around!