Joint venture partners need more than tech to form a bond

Out-Law Analysis | 15 Jul 2021 | 9:12 am | 3 min. read

Personal connections between people from different businesses comprising a joint venture (JV) company can make all the difference in making JV arrangements work well.

JV leaders should consider how best to foster those connections from the outset. Technology can help with this, but it is unlikely on its own to enable the close relationships JV partners need to form to successfully deliver a project.

The importance of people and technology

As we identified in our special report ‘Joint Ventures – Delivering Global Mega Infrastructure Projects’, both people and technology as essential to making joint ventures work.

One contributor, Emma Seymour of Dubai Expo 2020, said: "When leadership teams within a JV clash on culture, values and objectives, it will be almost impossible to create an enduring and successful business." 

On technology, Mark Enzer of Mott MacDonald, said: "Second-guessing specific future technology solutions will be almost impossible, but a focus on awareness of emerging technologies and providers, compliance, contracts and collaboration, will all help to mitigate any potentially disruptive impacts."

As organisations increasingly look to joint ventures to deliver infrastructure projects considered vital to driving the world’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, people and technology are more essential than ever.

The people connection can make joint ventures work in many different ways. I recall one, highly-contentious project. Disputes raged between the joint venture contractor and the employer for many months. The employer did everything it could to separate the joint venture parties – trying to isolate the JV partner who was at the core of the disputes. However, the JV parties stayed united and ultimately resolved the dispute.  A major factor in this was the close bond forged by individuals from the different JV parties. The project directors for the JV parties were each smokers, and quickly thrashed out contentious issues over a cigarette, standing outside the site offices. Not a scenario that's been possible for most of us lately.

McMillan Frazer

Fraser McMillan

Partner

As we begin to have more choices about how and where we work it seems inevitable that businesses will seek to capture some of the gains… The balance for businesses will be balancing these benefits with what common workplaces provide – that human contact that builds and sustains culture

Coming out of Covid, it is worth reflecting on the manner in which people have had to work, and the technological tools they have had to use and pondering whether these ways of working will stick around or whether we should revert to the way things were done pre-2020. From this, we can consider whether there are ways of working that successful joint ventures can learn and adopt.

For businesses, the core challenge of Covid has been restrictions on the movement of people – both restrictions on international travel, many of which remain, as well as restrictions on movement within countries and full lockdowns. In many countries, construction sites have been kept open and work has been able to progress, but office-based people – commercial, designers, HR, for example – have had to develop different ways of working.

The tech response is familiar to us all now. Teleconferencing has become ubiquitous. Not the expensive, boardroom tech of old, but hard-to-find webcams on screens at home, laptops and headsets. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have developed incredibly quickly, incorporating larger participation, screen and document sharing as well as the essential stock backgrounds. Jabber and Slack are how we chat.

As we begin to have more choices about how and where we work it seems inevitable that businesses will seek to capture some of the gains. So, less travel time and cost, smaller office space, more time-efficient meetings, and agile working that has worked well for many people. The balance for businesses will be balancing these benefits with what common workplaces provide – that human contact that builds and sustains culture.

The particular challenges faced by JVs

This is a concern for any business, but joint ventures have particular challenges. They must build a team that only exists for a defined period of time, for a defined objective. The JV cannot draw on a unique history of relationships and culture to direct the team. The history is held in the constituent JV parties, and they may be quite different from one another.

What works for a company may not be right for that company's JV. Thought needs to be given to aligning diverse team members and the shiny new, post-Covid, tools may not be fit for purpose. Crucially, this is an immediate challenge for JV leadership.

Small and regular interactions keep parties together, often in stressful environments. As much as we may be attracted by the convenience of Zoom and Teams, I'd suggest they don't enable the kind of relationships that are needed when things get tough. So, when we can, when Covid restrictions permit, we should welcome the return to the water-coolers, coffee shops and other informal places for congregating – the places where successful joint ventures are forged.

Pinsent Masons is hosting a virtual panel discussion on joint ventures in the infrastructure sector on 22 July. Registration for the event is now open. The discussion will focus on building successful joint ventures for projects in the context of Covid-19 and the changes it has brought about globally, with a focus on Australia.