We recently published our “How to” guide on the importance of Emotional Intelligence in major projects. The guide outlines the definition of EI, discusses why it is important in a major project setting and shares a number of case studies of times when the use of EI has had a positive impact upon project delivery. Over the next few weeks, I am going to discuss one aspect of the report with the aim of bringing the content of this great report to a wider audience.
Today’s blog is about the power of storytelling.
If the pandemic has taught me anything it is that we are social creatures who thrive on personal interaction. Without personal connection many of us are struggling through the series of UK lockdowns which have lasted almost a full year. Because whilst there is a place for processes and systems, the way that we make things happen is through personal relationships, feeling connected. And what better way to forge those connections than through a shared narrative. The following case study from Andy Mitchell of Tideway explains how they changed the language around the Tideway project from being about engineering and tunnelling to a being a tale about the river. Here is the story in Andy’s words:
Emotional intelligence to engage with stakeholders
The engineering challenge for the Tideway Tunnel team was to build a new sewer beneath the River Thames in London. The wider, and perhaps more difficult challenge – and the one the project chose to tackle first — was to work with and engage the vast number of often very hostile and defensive local communities along the 30km route, and convince them that the project was good for their communities, good for the environment and good for London.
For a team made up from engineers, lawyers and financiers this way of thinking did not come naturally. But having set up a new company to deliver the project, the opportunity was there to do things differently.
The projects overarching vision of ‘Reconnecting London with the River Thames’ was the result of open and ‘playful’ discussion in a ‘safe’ environment where the whole team could talk honestly about what they thought was important to the project. This ‘safe’ space was established in the office for teams to explore and exchange ideas about the purpose of the project, its potential impact on communities and what it meant to them as individuals.
Rather than describing the project in the usual fact-based, technical way, the language used was more emotive – describing the way the project could actively ‘rekindle a broken love affair’ and ‘reconnect Londoners’ relationship’ with the river. The key was to avoid creating a corporate script, instead using phrases such as ‘imagineering/engineering’ to create personal journeys that stakeholders could understand and buy into.
“Authenticity is really important. But by dropping the technical arguments and talking about our love affair with the river it changed the relationship with our neighbours. It gave us our identity and our style.” Andy Mitchell CBE, Chief Executive, Thames Tideway Tunnel
The whole leadership team had to embrace this new approach, to ‘live the culture and keep it healthy’ and ensure that the approach remained authentic – to stand in the shoes of the community and the project team to really understand what they think about the project.