What Can the Building Industry Learn from the All Blacks

8083826261_7755ba9120_mI want to re-blog this thoughtful article from Prof. Kim Lovegrove, an eminent Australian lawyer (and clearly a rugby fan).  Of course he is absolutely right; sustained success comes from commitment, teamwork, focus, management, process, planning and more. 

Sadly the sentiments expressed are not even a dream for the Australian construction industry.  A colleague of mine used to say the construction  industry feeds on itself.  Clients and major contractors have turned that into an art-form.  It is characterised by aggressive risk management and avoidance of responsibility.  There is no se399107-dd5b6860-7b73-11e5-b858-124d84ad5405nse of risks being carried by those most able to manage or carry them, a basic rule of contracting.  Unmanageable risks are pushed mercilessly on to the weakest link in the chain, usually a subcontractor. The name of the game is to beat them into submission.  They look more like this than the disciplined, committed, welded, focused team above.

Beneath the spin, little attempt is made to plan and manage the entire process and there is no onus on head contractors to do so.  Walls and barriers between team members are created so that there is no proper coordination or deep communication that modern technology can allow.  Main contractors discourage excellent management in favour of chaos, on which they (at least think) they thrive.  If you want proof, check out any major subcontract and weep for the future of the industry.

We all want more from governments.  They can’t do everything, but in this case governments must at least lead by example, establishing contracting chains on their projects that will encourage innovation and best practice contract and project management.

Many contend that the Men In Black (MIB) may well be the greatest team in the history of sport, period. Their success is due to many factors; in Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu you had once-in-a-lifetime athletes along the lines of Shane Warne, Lionel Messi and Usain Bolt. The side also had wonderful coaching, extraordinary determination and, perhaps most importantly, a “team first” philosophy. Under the All Blacks’ program, the individual – no matter how brilliant – is always subordinate to the team. It was a champion team, not a team of champions, reminiscent of a Rolex watch, where many individual cogs have been finely crafted to work in perfect harmony with the other cogs, the brilliant sum of many brilliant parts.

So what is the take out for the building industry? What can the building industry learn from this phenomenal collective force that is the All Blacks? In a word, everything, but what does “everything” look like? For starters, it means some cultural reengineering, covering all bases, top down, bottom up, right across the board; doing the small things right along with the big.

The quest for perfection

The All Blacks are obsessed with perfection and best practice in sporting endeavour, the “homogenisation” of 15 into one, obsessed with becoming the very best of the very best. Imagine if you will, a building industry where this is the ethos, a culture where the

industry is driven by a desire to be the best of the best in the quest for the construction of the perfect as built product. A competitive environment where builders, engineers, architects and sub contractors are obsessed with betterment, the building of the best rather than the most lucrative or the mantra of “close enough is good enough.”

Awesome teamwork

All Black coach Steve Hansen, a brilliant and decisive thinker whose rugby acumen is as great as his capacity for the self-effacing, has opined that the “team, not the individual, comes first.” This differs from Australia’s building industry where the concept of the team is not universally “evolved.” There can be a chasm between builders and subcontractors, and all too often between aspiring property owners and builders.

Instead of being on the same side, too many have an inclination to pit themselves against one another, reminiscent of a classic Wallaby/All Black gladiatorial clash. Builders and subcontractors don’t have to be at loggerheads. Where did that script come from? It didn’t have to become entrenched in culture.

Indulge me by imagining a whole team ethos, with builders, subcontractors and employees pulling together, moving in unified flank, like the quintessential All Black 15- man rugby or the magnificent Wallaby “tight 5.” Until builders and subcontractors get on the same page, until they remove the divide, the as-built product will not realise its full potential and best practice and industry productivity will fall well short of optimum.

Putting the Client First and the Pride in the Product

The All Blacks put the client first, and the client for an All Black is the New Zealander. The privilige of wearing the Black jersey is that it connotes an extremely high level of service to the public. These men, along with those they pit themselves against, like their Australian brothers the men in ‘green and gold,’ put their bodies on the line for their country. They are honoured to serve. If the building industry were to universally embrace the ethos of service, the desire to serve, the passion of knowing that the customer will be besotted with the as-built product, it would generate a paradigm shift in terms of the demise of disputation and industrial relations discord. Just like the All Blacks have the pride in the jersey, builders, subcontractors and employees from the ground up and top down would serve the client and the public well if they were they to pursue the ideal of the pride in the product.

Were there to be an industry culture of pride in the product, the Leaky Building Syndrome that has cost NZ billions of dollars would not have materialised. The litigation and distraught souls caught up in countless Australian building disputes

would have lived better lives, basking in the joys of well-built homes. If a sporting team can do it, why can’t a building industry?

The ability to innovate and stay one step ahead of the opposition

Sport, like the building industry, is about competition, the winning of the job, the quest to become number one. But the building industry can be blemished by those who think winning is about doing it cheaper. This is a very different ethos to winning because you can do it better. The All Blacks are the most succesful rugby franchise in history because they are about winning by doing it better.

One becomes better by innovating, thinking outside the circle, embracing best practice and becoming the benchmark for best practice. If one is driven to do it better, one gets the work and one wins the tenders that matter. Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Ferrari, Louis Vuitton, and Rolex have established their brands by doing it, much, much better. Sure there are cheaper alternatives, but low cost is not what defines these brands. The All Blacks spare no effort in the pursuit of the excellence. The well-built product must also have a zero tolerance approach to staid myopia. Innovation, best practice, brainstorming and benchmarking must be the catchphrases.

No shortcuts

The All Blacks don’t take shortcuts. This All Black team and coaching maestro Steve Hansen started planning the defense of the World Cup immediately after the last World Cup. The planning started before the 2011 Webb Ellis honeymoon was over, the bubbly wasn’t yet flat. And while the rest of the rugby playing nations are starting to feel it’s “safe to go out into the water,” the MIB are already talking about how to win it again. The race never stops; the drive for betterment is relentless. When contractors take shortcuts, use cheaper options, cheaper products, or less than stellar human resources, the dividend is shoddy workmanship and compromised product. This isn’t long-term thinking, it isn’t how you build a brand, it’s not how you get happy clients and a reassured public, and it brings certain sections of the building industry into ill- repute.

A huge work ethic and walking the extra mile

Richie McCaw, the much-feted All Black captain, with a record 148 caps and an 89 per cent winning ratio as captain, is universally regarded as the greatest rugby player in the history of the Game. McCaw (who would be Sir Richie McCaw but for the fact that he turned down a knighthood) had a reputation as the first on the field when it came time for training and the last to leave. The great athlete has an extraordinary work ethic. He doesn’t just walk the extra mile, he runs the extra 10 miles, so to speak.

The take-out for the building industry is that there is nothing wrong with hard work. There is nothing wrong with largesse, with doing that little bit more to help the client, one’s colleagues, the builder, the subcontractors and other stakeholders.

Published on 06 November 2015

Professor Kim Lovegrove

Kim lovegrove FAIB is a partner of Trans Tasman Lawyers, Lovegrove Smith & Cotton, an author & law reformer, a Conjoint Professor in Building Regulation & Certification at University of Newcastle NSW & Chair of the Centre for Best Practice Building Control.

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