#CIPDOD15 Aligning Teams and Building Collaboration for Performance

Final piece goes to Rob Jones from Crossrail and Ally Salisbury from Sheppard Moscow.

Building a sustainable culture of collaboration in Europe’s largest infrastructure project and creating alignment across boundaries and conflicting agendas.

Focus for last 3 years has been creating space for new tracks and stations – finished tunnelling in June this year!


Have an integrated client delivery team – 1600 people needing to be aligned to 1 set of objectives.  Those 1600 people work for 3 different partners who work for 9 different employers.  Different bonuses, different performance mgmt. processes, etc.  Our aim isn’t to align systems and processes.  It is a challenge and it continues to be a challenge.  And then we have 27 contractors and 10,000 people working for them!

It is complex.  We talk about the United States of Crossrail.  The CEO is the President.  Helpful to have an analogy to make this size of challenge real and understandable.


Needed people in the OD team, needed someone to help Rob make sense of it for himself.  Found support in Ally from Sheppard Moscow.


Investing time and energy in understanding the context before trying to be understood – spending time finding out what the questions were.  What help is required and what will success look like?

There’s an overwhelming complexity of politics and power.  Some want a safe railway, some want to make money.


The big milestones were really clear but the smaller milestones are where conflict and misunderstanding have come.  They’ve worked on trying to build trust and unlock entrenchment.  Helping people focus on what they have in common rather than on their differences.  Tried to use simple interventions to allow vulnerabilities to be shown and trust to grow.

If you talk to the engineers about what we do they’ll acknowledge that the soft stuff is hard to do.  Have asked questions like what do you care about and why to get them out of their trenches.

The Audible Gasp

Didn’t tell people their issues & challenges – they discovered they were very similar but at different ends of it.  Took 2 project teams, working at different ends of the same hotel, 2 independent facilitators – very important especially for the Joint Venture team.  Did an exercise around looking to ourselves first – what do we need to do to get better at what we’re doing?, what are we doing as a team to get in the way of our partners?, what would we like them to do differently to improve their team effectiveness?

Brought the teams together for the afternoon and each team read the other flipcharts and they were amazed – an audible gasp – that what they’d said in Q2 was the answer for Q3 of the other team.


No one party can solve an issue – it needs 2 or more every time.  Their aim was to get common understanding of the issues and to give permission to ask for help.  Engineers’ natural position is to be right and to assert for their position.

Safe to Fail Environment

These people understand how to deliver, everything is a to-do list.  Getting them to take themselves out of that to take time, courage, be vulnerable and share things is a big challenge.  Rob realised he was taking the risk in it failing so they didn’t have to.  He needed to give them permission to not be right first time.  Creating a place where they can explore and have space to do that.

Elephant in the Room

Helping teams t admit there is an elephant was one of the biggest things – the need to be right was very prevalent.  To see it and decide together what they were going to do about it.  Less comfortable with climate & relationship – taking it away from process and task.  Goal to get this stuff out rather than being talked about at the coffee machine or down the pub.

Used pre-interviews in one to one or small focus group to identify elephants safely and confidentiality ahead of the group interventions.  Accelerated the openness and diagnosis felt shared.

Wicket Rolling

The background work was essential to success and included helping leaders to take responsibility for the effectiveness for their teams – they had to be the driver even if we were in the car with them.

Know When to Fold

Takes courage to realise the hand you’ve been dealt with isn’t right and you need to step away to take a different angle and come back in.  Sometimes it was hard to get the right people in the room.  Sometimes sponsorship was patchy.  Some leadership capability was low.  Rob had to go back to the business to challenge whether the right people were on the bus.

Scar Tissue

We were new, they all knew each other – worked together for years, if not decades.  Huge consistency in the contracting industry.  Often the issues dealing with were from 5-10 years ago, nothing to do with Crossrail, issues of corporate reputation rather than individual – they did this to me.  Had to clear the crap out of the wounds to allow them to close over and start healing.


We’re not doing it for them but they get used to having us around as a sounding board to help them frame their problems.  Been vital to stick to terms of engagement – the eyeball agreement about what we’re here to do – and when that’s done – get out!  Unles it’s a fresh problem the ‘client’ needs to face up to this for themselves.  We aren’t there as a sticky plaster, they need to feel capable to take this forward.


The people who need the most help are the ones least likely to ask for it.  Important to ensure not just the needy to get the help and important to differentiate between needs and wants – what’s at the root of this?  Get the reality before intervening.  Go out and find where the issues are.


Rob and Ally have become effective partners by communicating openly and frequently.  Ally’s previous experience is that the internal partner gets the inside track.  Can create a dynamic about vulnerability, side-lined.  Got round that with lots of coffees, lots of trust both ways, feeding back to each other – work by Proceed Until Apprehended! (Stolen with pride from Doug Shaw).

The Long Run

It’s not a sprint, it feels like a hard slog, it’s not easy to train for – felt like this in the early days.  Lots of emotional energy and investment and not getting much back.  Kept just putting one foot in front of the other.  Small successes build more success and credibility.  People now call on them to go to other teams.


Versatile toolkit – team coaching, conflict resolution, goal alignment – we don’t lead with any of the theories.  Sometimes because when you get in there it’s not what you’ve planned for anyway.


Key to achieving has been sponsorship – if you haven’t got it – pull stumps and get some

Keep it Simple Stupid

This project isn’t about OD – it’s about clear vision and leaders that can engage people and manage the environment and system – step back and keep it simple.

This post has been live-blogged from #CIPDOD15.  I’ve done my best to represent the content accurately and fairly but some errors may exist.  Most of it is the speakers’ content and I aim to show the bits that are my opinion.

One thought on “#CIPDOD15 Aligning Teams and Building Collaboration for Performance

  1. A stunning and incredible story. I struggle to work out to influence half a dozen people at a time, this is immense!!

    I can really understand the engineers initially feeling they are always right as the ‘technicians’ – very similar in the chemical industry, lots of ego, but this example proves that with great leadership, any situation can be improved, regardless of scale.

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