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The successful delivery of a railway engineering project often requires professionals from a number of disciplines to work alongside each other.
Safety and system assurance; signalling, control and protection; civil and structural engineering; commissioning; and operations requirements are just a few of the job titles that are likely to be involved in a rail project.
Having multidisciplinary teams that run like a well-oiled machine can have significant benefits, but there are also a number of challenges associated with this method.
Overcoming these hurdles and taking a more interconnected approach will not only positively impact current schemes, it can also boost efficiency on future schemes.
Here are just some of the benefits of multidisciplinary teams in railway engineering projects.
Better communication: A traditional problem in railway engineering projects is having knowledge and skills siloed between different departments.
Multidisciplinary teams work more closely together, allowing streamlined decision-making and a better understanding of how individual departments inter-relate and contribute to the final outcome.
Efficiency boost: Encouraging teams to have members from multiple disciplines often boosts efficiency by ensuring input from various project areas can be achieved simultaneously.
This prevents complicated approval workflows and continuous back and forth between departments, resulting in improved productivity.
Time and cost savings: Whether it is during design, procurement, construction or operations phases, multidisciplinary teams can help cut costs and hit deadlines.
This set-up means team members are working from a broader and more informed position, which enhances project managers’ abilities to identify and overcome potential pitfalls.
Upskilling staff: Multidisciplinary teams facilitate knowledge and skill sharing, providing staff with career development opportunities.
This on-the-job training is not only useful for existing projects, but can also be carried across to future ones.
Common challenges for multidisciplinary teams
While the benefits are significant, multidisciplinary teams still face a number of challenges that should be overcome to achieve optimal results.
Logistics: Getting members from multiple disciplines together for problem-solving exercises can be difficult, particularly if they are located on different sites.
Chain of command confusion: Questions of seniority and the acknowledged chain of command could pose a problem when multiple disciplines are working alongside each other.
Different targets: Each department is likely to have their own targets and priorities on a project, which could hamper a team’s progression towards a common goal.
Accountability: As with the chain of command, there could be issues over who is accountable for what part of a project in multidisciplinary teams.
Overcoming these challenges
In order to achieve the benefits of multidisciplinary teams, while minimising potential problems, companies should pursue effective training activities.
Training courses ensure participants have a greater appreciation for each other’s roles, as well as boosting communication and dialogue between departments.
This provides employees with tools and information to take back and implement in the workplace, which allows for greater clarity when structuring teams and setting accountability parameters.
In addition to training courses, businesses can also:
· Set clear and concise job roles for optimal performance on an individual and team basis
· Deploy technology solutions – such as video conferencing – to enhance communication across different sites and disciplines
· Define a common goal to ensure all team members are aware of their responsibilities and are working towards a desired outcome
· Use case studies to explore different approaches to projects and see how teams can achieve targets from a departmental and team-based perspective
· Remove barriers that create departmental silos, whether these are cultural, geographical or structural.