Local Government Magazine
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Building an effective team

New councils: Same challenges - LG Dec 2016

By Peter Silcock, chief executive, Civil Contractors New Zealand

Building an effective team is the number one priority for all councils as they settle in to their work following the local body elections. Whether there are only a few new councillors, a whole new team, a new mayor, or a new committee chair the dynamics change. A new council has to find its own starting point to be able to operate successfully and get the best results for its community.

Construction and maintenance contractors face the same challenge. Each contract has a beginning and an end, and each job is different from the last. We bring together people with the expertise, skills and relationships required for the project then we get to work on developing a team that can work together to deliver a great result.

Successful teams are invariably measured by the results that they achieve and councils and contractors are no different. Construction or maintenance contracts that are timely, within budget and exceed customer expectations are what we all strive for.

A critical element to achieving that level of success is getting agreement between the client and the contractors about what success looks like. It goes way beyond just time and cost. It includes things like functionality, aesthetics, design components, resilience, future capacity… the list goes on.

A council operating as a successful team will be able to provide, with a high level of clarity, a view of what success looks like. Without that direction we all face an uphill battle and the results will be suboptimal.

For new councils that are coming together for the first time, building a team which can agree on a clear vision can be very challenging. Yet with many of the core services delivered by councils, such as civil maintenance and construction work, there is probably no (or very little) debate about what is best for the community. Developing these points of agreement is a great foundation on which to build a strong team. It’s about focusing on what you can agree on rather than the differences.

All councils have a mountain of infrastructure work to do and many have significant challenges around funding the maintenance and replacement of aging infrastructure. Treasury’s Infrastructure Evidence Base, Ten-year Capital Intentions Plan 2016 identifies that local government is intending to do 3559 projects worth a total of $51 billion over the next 10 years.

For communities, councils and contractors the timely, consistent and well planned delivery of this work is critical. The council long-term plans, improved asset management and a more strategic approach to procurement are contributing to achieving better delivery but these things all need to be actively supported and encouraged by councillors.

Engagement with the contracting community through Civil Contractors New Zealand’s branches is also improving with better visibility of work programmes, improving collaboration, increased innovation and a best-for-customer approach becoming more evident.

A number of councils have gained an industry reputation for underspending their capital budget. We recognise that sometimes there are good reasons for this but more often than not it is caused by poor project planning (particularly the time required for consenting, design and procurement) and a lack of internal capacity to effectively manage projects.

This capital underspend is not a saving. It represents a deferment at best and if it involves deferring the replacement or upgrading of aging infrastructure then it is likely to be costing the council and the community.

The deferment of capital projects can represent a reduction in community service levels: for example, more service outages; a reduction in the level of infrastructure resilience such as the ability of stormwater systems to cope during flood events; and an increase in maintenance costs where repairs of aging infrastructure escalate or old systems are maintained when new, more efficient and innovative systems could be installed.

Working together as a team you can get these projects going which will be good for the community, good for the council and good for contractors.

This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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