Published: 8 Jul 2019

After being awarded Quality Team of the year in the International Quality Awards 2018, David Sanders, Business Improvement Manager at Costain, shares what he believes makes his team exemplary in its field. He outlines eight key elements for the success of Costain’s Business Improvement Team which could be applied to any quality team

  1. Leadership

Every member of our team contributes with a different skillset, yet we are all leaders. In our own ways we show initiative, ask questions and challenge, motivate and coach each other, as well as the wider business. Quality people have been known to be referred to as ‘book worms and librarians’ and we are continually squashing this perception by being helpful and by being solution providers, rather than problem raisers.

2. Communication

Despite being spread across the UK, we consciously create opportunities for regular dialogue. We use Skype for our weekly 30-minute scrum style meetings and WhatsApp for informal communication. We use formalised agenda-driven meetings less often, because we find the ‘little and often’ approach works best.

We also use our intranet to tell our business about what we have achieved, through blogs and news articles. It’s a good test of productivity, in the sense that if you have nothing to shout about, are you doing the right things?

3. Evaluation

It’s important to measure results, but we also measure our teams’ enablers (or lead indicators). We use SharePoint to track our opportunities for improving the business, or actions and activities. It’s easy to let things slip, so regularly measuring what we’ve achieved, and what we haven’t, helps us hold each other to account – and so deliver effective business change.

  4. Purpose

Our team has a strategy. We know what we’re aspiring to achieve, and we have a plan for how we intend to achieve it. We review and refresh that plan every year, which renews our energy and enthusiasm to make a difference.

Rightly, as the business develops, our purpose has changed and will inevitably continue to do so, and we thrive on that. As an example, in 2013 our job was to rebuild our governance structure. This year is about getting even closer to excellence everywhere, every time.

Our Business Improvement Team isn’t perfect, but we will keep striving for excellence.

5. Teamwork

We make a conscious effort to increase our knowledge on teamwork and continually aim to keep our level of team working high. Patrick Lencioni’s book The Five Dysfunction of a Team was a favourite for us last year. Dave Stitt’s book Deep and Deliberate Delegation is on this year’s list.

6. Transparency

With several of us undertaking the same activities across the business, consistency is important. To help install this we document our processes and common tools, which we then share within our online corporate governance system (‘the Costain way’), so the business can understand what we do too.

7. Diversity

Costain’s business improvement team is not only gender diverse, but also the skills, experience and specialisms we possess are complementary rather than matching. Our team includes auditors who audit, and coaches who coach. We have found our business sometimes finds it difficult to accept both functions from the same person, so now we try to keep those roles separate.

8. Reflection

From time to time we can all fall into the trap of focussing on what’s wrong and what else is left to do. To overcome this, we try not to forget how far we have come and, instead, focus on the difference we’ve made.

We found that entering the International Quality Awards in 2018 was a great way to do this. In 2017, our submission flagged that we were lacking in a few areas. We used that knowledge, plugged those gaps, and came back stronger – demonstrated by the award win.

Costain won Quality Team of the year in the International Quality Awards 2018

Everyone knows about top 10 lists, but we have a top eight. Why try to fit what we do into an accepted norm if there isn’t any real benefit from doing so?

Our Business Improvement Team isn’t perfect, but we will keep striving for excellence. As standards and demands continue to rise, we believe keeping an eye on these eight core ingredients will help us renew and refresh our approach. Subsequently, we remain relevant and value adding for our business.

I hope that something in our approach has resonated with you, and that it encourages you to take steps towards improvement.

If you can’t see anything here that you feel you need to work on, then perhaps enter the 2019 International Quality Awards! By recognising areas of improvements, we were able to make our business better, and you might be just as surprised (and delighted) to win as we were.

About the author: David Sanders, CQP MCQI, is a Business Improvement Manager at Costain