Acorn Coaching and Development

Improving business performance


​Ten Things to Know about the Art of Collaboration

  • The art of collaboration

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Collaboration as ‘the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing’. In this feature we discuss what collaboration means in terms of output - rather than process - and offer our top tips for ten things it is useful to hold in mind when creating collaboration.


Whatever the exact definition – and I am happy to go with Cambridge on this one - there is no doubt that ‘collaboration’ is becoming a big player on the world stage. Some of our largest clients in Construction and Infrastructure, including those operating as Tier 2 and Tier 3 contractors in the Nuclear sector, are increasingly coming under pressure as senior stakeholders recognise the value of establishing and embedding collaborative processes and working practices, and the impact they can have on project performance. Complex JVs, Project start-ups, bids and tenders, and even standard issue contracts, are all calling for ‘collaboration’.

The need to work together (note that the definition doesn’t read ‘in parallel’) towards the same goal both on paper and in practice - and the need to formally demonstrate capability in this area - are not going away.

In recent history

In the case of project teams, multi-company JVs, hastily-formed bid teams - in fact any situation where disparate working practices and cultures are called upon to work together to produce ‘output’ - a collaborative culture established and cascaded from the highest level is both necessary and desirable to avoid costly mistakes and inconsistency-related ‘slippage’.

We have seen the language historically in PFIs and the nuclear sector. HS2, the government’s planned new high-speed rail network, is running conferences for its contractors specifically about the requirement of collaboration with - and within - project teams. As the trend is further established we are seeing that it is increasingly common for businesses to put potential contractors through psychological assessment weekends where their ability to demonstrate collaboration – their ability to agree and establish aligned processes and deliver them under pressure - is the key focus of assessment.

2010 saw the introduction of BS11000, a British Standard that ‘provides a framework specification for creating and managing collaborative business relationships’.

In their own words, “Using an eight stage approach, BS 11000 is designed to enable organisations of any size and sector to apply best practice principles to their own ways of working, to get the most out of business relationships. It...includes advice on assessing and monitoring these partnerships through a relationship management plan. BS 11000 maps the key areas that all organisations should address. It is recognised that every relationship is different and that the degree of application will vary within the overall framework. However, the key issues will be common to most. It is these key factors that BS 11000 captures and thus provides a common and consistent foundation for collaboration.”

There is undoubted value in the intent. However, as with many processes it is in itself in danger of putting the emphasis on the process rather than the output. Think Health and Safety, where regular (if not frequent) breaches of protocol occur regardless of extensive policies, leading in some cases to the most serious consequences. The effectiveness of Health and Safety policies, of BS11000, of any stated intent, relies ultimately on implementation – on human behaviour.

Our clients have on more than one occasion expressed doubt to us about BS11000 – as they have too often seen dutiful ‘alignment’ with the BS1100 process without apparent intent to implement it at a behavioural level. They are absolutely clear: from their contractors they do not want to be 'sold to' on the strength of BS11000 alone, they need more evidence of actuality than that.

In short, in the last 2-3 years our clients have shown a shift in thinking, where they are becoming more discerning about the process of collaboration as they have become more aware of what business advantages true collaboration can bring.

What does collaboration mean in real terms?

A move towards a collaborative culture requires a change of culture. From our 20 years’ experience of working within complex and challenging projects in the construction and infrastructure, engineering, nuclear, pharmaceutical and other key industry sectors, Acorn Coaching has identified ten key collaborative behaviours that should be demonstrated by the key leaders of collaborative frameworks and projects.

Acorn’s Top Ten Collaborative Behaviours

  • Create the right tone, environment and common goals in which teams work well and managers are promoted to manage
  • Manage performance; coach, set direction and manage performance of other managers 

  • Delegate managerial work to managers 

  • Communicate and influence positively with a wide number/circle of stakeholders 

  • Be accountable for the performance (programme, profit and loss) of the overall project
  • Create joint ‘activity’ to anticipate and address potential problems/issues
  • Make decisions based on a combination of wider short term and longer term perspectives and the impact on project performance
  • Demonstrate visible leadership – ‘modeling the role’, communicating the project vision and expectation
  • Create and promote adoption of integrated ‘fit for purpose’ systems and procedures 
into common project processes
  • Listen in an active style to other’s opinions, asking questions in order to obtain clarity, drawing an objective opinion once the ‘full story’ has been provided 


The need to work collaboratively and to demonstrate competence in the area of collaboration in bids, tenders and project delivery is here to stay. In fact the ability to do so is likely to become a key differentiator as the concept gains momentum, and people increasingly witness its positive impact on project performance.

By embedding collaborative behaviours tangible business benefits are at stake, beginning with winning work, and ending with projects running harmoniously, within budget, to spec and on time. Many clients now want to create framework agreements with suppliers who can deliver cost savings and work in a manner that is not adversarial.

The message from industry seems fairly consistent: at this point in time collaborative capability within your business delivers real competitive advantage.