The Secret Engineer: Creating the conditions for effective teamwork

As the engineering workplace becomes more fluid, we must be careful we don’t forget about the importance of teamwork writes our anonymous blogger

Recent events have highlighted an aspect of life to me that most of us seem to take for granted. At (generally) 38 hours a week we spend a large percentage of our time at work where, as most of us do not have the isolation of lorry drivers or the aloofness of the senior surgeon, we build relationships.

If things are working really well then the combined talents exceed reasonable expectation

My own career has regularly seen me being a part of transitory project groups and permanent departmental groups, within which we invariably had to work together to complete difficult tasks within challenging timescales. Some colleagues have become firm friends while a few others have provoked a feeling of resentment as to the fact that they are breathing the same air as me. This last group really is very small though.

Of course we are employed to “do stuff” but a good atmosphere always helps. Even in the most trying circumstances advice and support can enable us to achieve more than we thought possible. If things are working really well then the combined talents exceed reasonable expectation and ventures into the exceptional. Even without reaching such rarefied heights, though, the fact remains that we spend a lot of time together in the pursuit of a single aim and this builds a bond that our natural reticence may lead us to ignore. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone but there are few absolute loners practising engineering.

Mr Secret-Engineer Senior provides a prime example. He has been retired for a number of years now, with the organisation he worked for having passed into history. However he still regularly meets up with the “old boys” from his working days. Theirs was an era spent in the golden light of vision, investment and pushing boundaries within their field. An eclectic mix of the quietly pragmatic and the eccentric genius, these ladies and gentlemen regularly directed their combined talents towards world beating excellence. Something that helped forge the friendships of 50 or more years ago, friendships that remain strong and unbroken today.

I too have been fortunate to be involved in a situation that has created similar ties. Some years ago a certain company was formed to build a new type of whizz-bang, with the number of those involved gradually growing from 4 or 5 to about 15. We were looking to fulfil one man’s vision from the start point of just a borrowed hanger and a few desks, with money always being tight and duties venturing beyond normal.

I keep seeing the promises of the freedom that “working from home” will bring, but will the next generation of engineers lose out because of this?

This led to some pressure points along the way, but it was a grand adventure. Sadly we didn’t see our project reach fruition but labouring under trying conditions and chasing hopes together made for a very strong team.

Now we too meet up regularly for riotous evenings that serve to provide a platform for both scandalous recollection and “catching up”. This despite over a decade having passed since our disbandment. Sadly we recently lost one of our group to cancer, but with that shared loss came another tie to hold us together.

I started my career in engineering during the transition from a workforce that had an expectation of a job for life to the peripatetic career that comes with a fluid movement of staff. I also keep seeing the promises of the freedom that “working from home” will bring, but will the next generation of engineers lose out because of this?

There are advantages to the brave new world and it is the nature of industry that we have to adopt new practices to remain competitive. I wonder though whether in 50 or 100 years there will still be the dynamic necessary to bring a group of people together in such a way?

The arguments, the fighting, the jokes and the moments of success that — when shared first hand together over a number of years — stop you from being a collection of individuals and truly turns you into a team. To lose that catalyst for superlative achievement within industry would be a shame. To lose the personal connections that come with being a part of the team that achieves the superlative would be worse.