Trust and Collaboration within the New Zealand Construction Industry 

Video conference meeting

Trust has become a buzzword in the business world. But the concept of trust has always been central to the construction industry. As it is important in our personal lives, trust is equally valued in a professional environment.

For construction organisations and the project teams they work with every day – this is also true. When projects run smoothly, there is likely an underlying level of trust that can be credited for that success. On the other hand, when schedules slip and the bottom line takes a hit, distrust can factor greatly.

Despite its obvious impact, trust has typically been an unmeasured resource in construction. Unlike clear KPIs such as safety or profit margins, it has been more difficult for companies to measure. But what if we could qualify the financial impact of trust and provide steps to deliberately create a more trusting environment within our industry?

Autodesk Construction’s recent research entitled, “Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust,”* has done just that. Surveying over 2,500 industry professionals across the globe, the research uncovers the relationship between construction firms and trust, identifying the behaviours that create trust and measuring how levels of trust directly impact project outcomes and financial performance.

In New Zealand, where communities are especially tight knit, it was not surprising to see that construction companies are outperforming their global peers when it comes to high levels of trust. In fact, 40% of New Zealand companies reported very high levels of trust compared to the 36% global average.

Nevertheless, maintaining and even increasing these trust levels will be essential for the lifeblood of the industry as it recovers from COVID-19. According to Statista, 183,800 people are directly employed in the construction industry (with approximately the same number in construction-related occupations) – making it one of the top three employment industries in Q1 2020.

So, what are the key insights construction professionals can learn from the research? Here are the top takeaways about trust in NZ construction industries.

Autonomy Supports Trust

Micromanagement is often seen as a negative in the construction industry. The best way to encourage a loyal and innovative team is by supporting individual workers’ professional growth and allowing them the freedom to make key decisions for their position. In a basic sense, management hires skilled workers and trains them as needed, but also trusts them to know and complete their job requirements to the high level of quality they desire.

Creating such a level of trust between leadership and staff helps to diminish the need or want to micromanage, which also frees the executive staff time for more worthwhile processes. It’s a better use of time overall. Hire great staff. Trust staff to know their job. Train them for more responsibilities. Productivity in these scenarios soars because there’s no need for management to work on the same tasks as their staff and projects can be addressed in a more proactive way.

Another benefit of autonomy is that it encourages workers to become more invested in their company and position. For instance, respondents indicated that they were more likely to have employees almost always go above and beyond to help others. Their data showed a positive rate of 34%, compared to a 30% global average. This documented average clearly correlates job satisfaction and autonomy to more productive contributions to the project.

Relationship Building Pays Off

The research also found a correlation between relationship-building and profits, with internal trust being key. The feeling is that managers and executives should get to know their teams well, in turn building a sense of relationship and trust, which leads to more productivity. These internal, personal relationships allow the team to feel heard and respected by their managers and each member of the team feels comfortable contributing ideas and highlighting issues. This also improves the line of communication, meaning that errors can be caught sooner and schedules are more likely to be kept.

When workers feel that they are a major part of the process, they take on responsibility naturally and are more apt to help other workers thrive. They develop relationships with each other that extend beyond the worksite, so they’re invested in each other’s success, as well as the company’s.

One major factor is the close relationships that companies have with each other. These are smaller communities and the professionals here often work with people they’ve known for the majority of their working lives. Workers here don’t need to spend a great deal of time learning about their partners and co-workers because they’ve known them for a long time.

This works in practice because there is such a natural camaraderie that collaboration is far more easily reached in many cases. This collaboration exists between co-workers, but it’s also exceptionally high between clients and companies, which allows for more interactive input from clients on projects.

Collaboration is the most remarked-upon benefits of this dynamic. In New Zealand, the report indicates that 30% of companies have high levels of collaboration – much higher than Australia (20%) and the global average of 24%.

Some collaboration effectiveness was brought about by the simple fact that the different people involved in projects have long-standing relationships. But many respondents also felt that the use of technology, such as cloud-based applications, helped all parties to stay informed in real-time. This is a benefit to contractors regardless of location.

Clarity and Transparency are Critical

Clarity and transparency are also essential when fostering trust in construction. You can’t expect staff to reach autonomy if the management level isn’t clear about what they expect or transparent in the process. There is also difficulty in maintaining a solid reputation among clients without transparency and honesty.

In the research, participants indicated that it’s vital to make instructions and requests clear, as well as clearly define job roles and expectations. Respondents reported that clearly defined expectations help empower individuals to succeed.

Thirty four percent of respondents strongly agreed that most people in their organisation are explicit about their requests (e.g., why the request is being made, what the objectives of the request are, etc.). When comparing the global average of only 22%.

When employees understand responsibilities, they experience more job satisfaction. They are motivated to work, having a vested interest in the company’s success, not only their own. They get the satisfaction of accomplishment and a feeling of contribution from their part in the whole.

Creating High-Trust Environments

Creating a high-trust environment delivers significant benefits in construction. Employees are more engaged, loyal and productive. Meanwhile, when it comes to external partners, greater trust leads to more effective collaboration and significantly increases the likelihood of successful project outcomes.

But high trust doesn’t happen by accident and there are ways for every company to improve:

  1. Routinely measure and monitor the level of trust in your business, by surveying employees, just as consistently as you would monitor key performance metrics in the business.
  2. Minimise uncertainty, by being as transparent as possible, ensuring roles and expectations are clearly defined and encouraging candid feedback.
  3. Support collaboration, both through easy and transparent communication and developing informal relationships between team members.
  4. Technology can create trust, by improving transparency, enhancing communication and providing evidence of success.

*Autodesk and FMI Corporation’s Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust surveyed 2,527 project owners, architects, contractors and specialty trades across eight countries in late 2019.