Procurement and contracts: building trust within teams

Procurement and contracts: building trust within teams

How can you build trust within programme and project delivery teams?

Changing project delivery practice

  • Infrastructure delivery projects may be large or small scale, involve multiple or single contractors, local labour or foreign skills
  • In many developing nations, such projects have usually been delivered through traditional “design by client” or hierarchical contracts
  • When delivery improvement requires adopting new ways of working, this needs shifts in thinking and approach and collaboration between parties
  • So, particularly where there are parties from different backgrounds with different aims and wants, there may be a need to encourage changes in mindsets and help parties to trust each other
  • To foster trust and teamwork, use a clear, well-defined approach, choose contract terms that allocate risk fairly and promote the collaborative approach (e.g. NEC3 family). You can include target price incentives, too. (Ref 2 and 3)
“Invest in credible information: Trust is easier to build when the facts are available to all”. Africa’s Infrastructure, A Time for Transformation, 2010 The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank

Lessons in building trust and changing behaviour

  • Identify and build team/project identity and culture (through workshops and shared activities)
  • Risk share, to promote common interest in achieving delivery objectives
  • Value the roles and responsibilities of others
  • Develop skill sharing and on-the-job training: e.g. main contractors can invest in training/mentoring smaller contractors/unskilled labour (ref 1)
  • Start from a position and culture of expecting trustworthy action by all: in client, other contractors, team members
  • Consult with the local community – provide training for engineers on how to engage with all stakeholders
  • Share best practice and success stories


  1. Watermeyer, R.B. (October 1999) Soweto’s Contractor Development Programme 1988-1998, , City Development Strategies Issue No 1
  2. Watermeyer, R.B and Thumbiran I. (May, 2009) Delivering infrastructure at scale in developing countries: numbers or systems?, Livingston, Zambia,
  3. Second ICE Middle East and Africa Conference (2010) Accelerating infrastructure delivery – improving the quality of life.

Expect trustworthy behaviour; share risks and skills

CASE STUDY – eThekwini AC Secondary Water Mains Replacement Project, Durban, South Africa

  • This municipality had to replace 2,800km of aging asbestos cement water mains over a three year period as the city was experiencing about 150 bursts per day. It also had the socio-economic objective of building the skills of small and medium-sized contractors to ultimately maintain the new network and to provide temporary work opportunities to the unemployed
  • NEC3 target contracts (option C) were entered into with four contractors. This type of contract provided the required flexibility to meet local needs when moving from one water district to another. Five professional contracts were entered into – one for programme management and for design services. The contractors were required to engage 16 subcontractors (co-contractors). These contracts required the team to work together in a spirit of trust and cooperation
  • The contractors were required to successively increase the amount of work subcontracted to the “co-contractors” and to develop them so that they could grow their skills and capacity to move two levels up in the South Africa CIDB (Construction Industry Development Board) contractor gradings. An independent mentor was also appointed to mentor them in growing their business
  • Trenches were, as far as possible, dug by hand. About 4,000 temporary workers were employed and rotated every four months to allow others to benefit financially from the construction activities
  • Quality was not compromised due to supervision by the experienced larger contractors and a full time mentor to assist with business strategy and growth
  • Provision of training on personal health and community issues, such as HIV/AIDS education, also demonstrated commitment to health of the labour force
  • Community liaison officers, responsible for facilitating communication in the local communities, helped to draw the teams together and foster trust
  • The demands placed on a client for its implementation were minimal – just one senior engineer


Watermeyer, R, Larkin, D, Kee A and Thumbiran I. (2009) Delivering infrastructure at scale: eThekwini Water and Sanitation experience in a pilot project. Civil Engineering.
Replacement of Asbestos Cement Secondary Watermains
R1, 6-billion project on track for 2010