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The need for diverse teams...

The need for a diverse team

...Aristotle and the acrobats

Alasdair Snadden, Managing Director for Asia Pacific, explores the need for diversity in construction and the strength of a team over that of disparate individuals.

Looking at how the construction industry tries to positively evolve can be fascinating. Previously, I explored tangible changes in methodology, such as use of building information modelling (BIM) or more modular forms of construction (Driver Trett Digest, Issue 3). But what about our future personnel requirements; how should these advance?

Clearly, working together in various types of team has been, and is always going to be, necessary. Be it pre-contract, post-contract, or handling claims and disputes there is an inevitability that, without working closely with others, nothing is achieved. Cooperation is paramount. It is ever more crucial that we draw from varying backgrounds, demographics, gender, heritage, and race to ensure our industry advances.

Guidance from Aristotle – what makes a good team?

Perhaps one of the most famous, poignant, and often quoted extracts taken from Aristotle is,
“the whole is greater [more] than the sum of its parts”. 

A lateral interpretation of this, relating to teams, could be that, regardless an individual’s capabilities, it is how people work together (as the whole) that ultimately leads to the greatest return.

Notwithstanding this, there is a more literal point not to be overlooked. The larger the sum of the parts, the better chance the whole has of being even greater.

To illustrate numerically, if we had two constituent parts each with a value of one, a total sum (or the whole) equalling three or more would be good, as it is greater i.e. 1 + 1 = 3. But perhaps harder to achieve than getting five parts to equal six. Logically, it would make sense to ensure that our team members are of the best abilities and are able to interact effectively (i.e. communicate), this can then translate more easily to provide a team of even greater value.

Finding the greatest sum – getting the best from a diverse team

As I have used numbers to emphasise my point about Aristotle, there is temptation to look at empirical data or studies to quantify and justify the effects that diversity has in creating the best team. Although there are an abundance of studies and authorities to demonstrate the benefits of diversity, there is a fundamental and common sense issue beyond the need for any data interpretation.

That is, if you expand your reach to include and consider as many different people as possible, the net effect is that you create the greatest probability of finding the required skills, when compared to depending on a small group of people. Thus, giving the team a better chance to succeed.

The arts often prove useful in demonstrating how well diversity works, with Cirque du Soleil proving an eclectic example of success.

A phenomenon, attracting audiences worldwide with spectacular shows; Cirque du Soleil showcases the individuals’ performances that have propelled it to become a global success. Whilst individually spectacular, the combination of these great acts, in one show, certainly surpasses anything the performances could do in isolation from each other. Perhaps illustrating Aristotle’s point at its finest.

When in Singapore, a director of Cirque du Soleil gave a television interview. When asked if they simply replace an injured or ill artist with a similar act, the response was a firm no! It was explained that Cirque du Soleil search globally to find their performers, and that the acts are so unique and complex that it would be impossible to readily replace them. Instead, when the need arises, they look to introduce new acts that can be seen as exceptional in their own right, even though they might not resemble, in the slightest, the one replaced.

What this illustrates is that if you only choose from a limited pool, you restrict your chances of finding a special talent for the team. Indeed, looking for a person with the specific characteristics of another could be a misguided and unrewarding task. Certainly, had Cirque du Soleil limited their search to a certain type of act, it’s unlikely that its world renowned reputation would be what it is today. You can also waste time looking for what you want, whilst ignoring the talent that is out there.

Is more diversity necessary in the Construction Industry?

Yes, the need to drive diversity forward is evident. Notwithstanding initiatives, be they legislative or not, construction in its various guises has been over-flowing with a lack of diversity throughout its history. For example, in shipbuilding, a long standing superstition held that no woman should board a vessel under construction. It was considered bad luck and people believed the vessel would be destined to sink. In Australia, it was only in the late 1980s that legislation was changed to allow women to enter a mine.

As well as clearly being unjust, limiting the talent pool in such ways seems the archetypal way of ‘shooting oneself in the foot’, particularly when so many construction challenges are far from conquered.

Take the example of resolving construction disputes through arbitration. The proceedings involve numerous parties, from representatives of the claimant and the respondent including lawyers, barristers, factual witnesses, and expert witnesses; altogether delivering a cacophony of information and opinion to represent the case to either a panel or singular arbitrator. The arbitrator must then provide the award. In essence, all these parties need to do their part, as a collective team, to ensure a conclusion is found to the dispute in hand.

Unfortunately, in many instances, this process proves unsatisfactory to its parties and practitioners. Even though arbitration was supposed to be quicker and cheaper than litigation, its reputation is quite the opposite. For example, parties and their representatives are often left frustrated by the length of time it takes for an award to be given, if given at all. In fact, the recently enacted Arbitration and Conciliation Act 1996, in India, placed a maximum 18-month time limit on the arbitrator to issue an award, to try and overcome this issue.

This illustrates that it is unlikely that consistently relying on limited resources, and failing methods, will deliver more efficient solutions to these problems (in fact didn’t Albert Einstein say the definition of insanity was, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?). Emphasis must be placed on making sure that the net is cast widely in the search for talent and that the pool must be as wide as possible, in order for the best people, with the most appropriate capacity and capabilities, to be made available to handle the difficult challenges ahead.

How can we ensure a diverse team is found?

Ideally diversity would happen organically. However, in reality it is likely to require a more pro-active and overt approach.

It must be remembered that the construction industry has historically faced a lack of diversity. The effects of which are profound. For example, Arbitral Women (an international body who promote and enhance the involvement of women in international dispute resolution http://www.arbitralwomen. org/) identified how unconscious biases exist. This can go as far as being neurologically rooted and our actions can prejudice, or fail to consider people, subconsciously.

This being the case, it seems only logical to make sure established processes and practices are put in place to overcome this and encourage diversity. For arbitration, Arbitral Women has been at the forefront of a pioneering ‘equal representation in arbitration pledge’. This is being supported by institutions, individuals, governing bodies, and committees working within arbitration to ensure they take clear steps, which make sure women are being considered as arbitrators. Having such implicit requirements appears to be crucial, if we are to take full advantage of what diversity will bring to the team.

My inspiration for the cause of diversity

When I first joined Driver Trett in Singapore, only one of our consultants was not a British-white-male (or as the media like to call them ‘male, stale, and pale’). Since then, the team has evolved to deliver a wider age demographic (20s - 60s), improved gender balance, and a wide range of nationalities including those with an English, Chinese, Indonesian, Irish, Malaysian, Portuguese, Scottish, Singaporean, and South African background. Unquestionably, this diverse team, with their various skills and abilities, have grown in to a stronger team, able to deliver and exceed our clients’ expectations and build a reputation to match. I have no doubt that diversity will be at the heart of our future successes.

This article was originally written for issue 12 of the Driver Trett Digest. 

To discuss the content of this article, or for any further enquiries, do please get in touch with Alasdair, by telephone: +65 6226 4317, or by email: alasdair.snadden@drivertrett.com


Articles  /  Asia Pacific  /  Digest  /  Global

Articles  /  Asia Pacific  /  Digest  /  Global

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