How do you create a safe, happy, high-performing team out of thousands of people from 7 subcontractors, too many countries and cultures to count, in an environment not always characterized by adherence to safety standards? Here's an example of our consulting experience.


The head of the senior leadership team of the Engineering, Procurement, Construction contractor for an energy project in North Africa employing 4,000 – 10,000 people at various stages had a clear vision to accomplish something extraordinary. He aspired to:

  • Create a high-performance culture.
  • Keep everyone safe while generating high quality results with steady progress.
  • Win hearts and minds of members of the project at all levels.
  • Be inspired by a potent vision to bring everyone together as one team with the skills to fulfil on that vision.
  • Build strong relationships between all levels and parts of the project.
  • Develop and maintain a continuous adaptive practice of alignment.
  • Embed strong common values – lived and visible from the top down and bottom up.
  • Unlock full potential of every team member.
  • Train a coaching culture.
  • Collaborate.
  • Foster creativity and fun.

“It seemed like a stretch” doesn’t begin to describe the gap between reality and the desired goals. In truth, few people thought it was possible.


Combining many different cultures and languages posed constant communication barriers in addition to the expected differences in perceptions of time, and how and what to communicate. The division between expats and locals was especially pronounced. It wasn’t simply a matter of language or cultures; reliance on inexperienced local workers meant wide variations in knowledge and skills in the field.

Senior management from sub-contractor organisations joined the Senior Leadership Team at different times throughout the project creating a challenge keeping the top team aligned. They’d not all been present for the launch stages of the project and the creation of its ambitious goals and vision. Their organizations also had differing norms and practices. What many of them shared was a low level of trust in local workers and a hierarchical command and control leadership style, both of which could have widened project divisions. The project also faced some breakdowns in relationships between departments — competing priorities and the beginning of polarisation.

Design Principles

How to approach such an ambitious project culture creation?

We worked with the key stakeholders to design a comprehensive programme. To set the project up for strong performance, align on their vision, and a build a shared systemic perspective, we took into consideration manpower projections, phases of work, working patterns (including rotations and seasonal changes), language requirements, high levels of knowledge and experience of some project members, and maximising client delivery to minimise travel (due to complex travel requirements to access site).

We acted as a bridge continuously listening for the emerging needs of the project, working adaptively with key stakeholders to redesign when appropriate for continuous fit. The client was surprised by the impact of this adaptive process. Meeting them where they were to support them in bridging the gap to their committed vision produced results that exceeded expectations.

We also took a systems approach, observing the macro view of the project, all sections and how they interact to provide this perspective to leadership for their management and decision-making. We walked the halls and the site, sat in on team meetings, listened for what coaching, training, and conversations were needed as the culture developed. We used an integral approach – looking at how systems and processes interact with the culture and behaviour – with a coaching style at its foundation. We also worked individually with the senior leadership team members as well as project teams.

As part of the solution, we trained project leaders at various levels including Supervisors to use coaching skills as they ran meetings, provided feedback, and discussed team performance and culture. This led to the development of a group of project Champions with coaching and facilitation skills, who demonstrated mindset shift and ways of being Champions for their culture. They served as Ambassadors.

A significant part of our work involved listening for:

  • the condition/health of the relationships on the project,
  • the mood of people on the project,
  • the concerns of people on the project,
  • the innovative ideas of people on the project,
  • the green shoots/emergence of leadership from everywhere on the project,
  • the positive impact the project can have on the lives of the people there, their families, and their communities – the wider circles of impact, and
  • the health and wellbeing both mental and physical on the project.

We also designed and delivered interactive workshops for the group to:

  • look at the current reality both celebrating the accomplishments and sitting with the uncomfortable challenges,
  • get deeply connected to common aligned vision,
  • discus and align on what actions are needed next,
  • uncover what might get in the way of those actions, and
  • create a SMARTR plan.


The project achieved exceptional performance in every metric  – there were no lost time injuries and it was on time. Leaders report that it was the first project that ever felt like a family, where people were smiling on site and the ambitious vision was alive for everyone from drivers to top management.

Maintaining relationships was not always easy – there were breakdowns – but there was also a commitment to a larger vision that helped when breakdowns in results and relationships occurred and both improved over the project lifecycle. The way breakdowns were resolved led to increased trust and better results over the project lifecycle.

From an environment characterized by a lack of trust arose the opposite – unprecedented collaboration and support between sub-contractors – lending each other equipment, adaptively planned together to accommodate changes etc.

The Health, Safety, and Environment team went from being seen as “police” by workers and construction teams to being seen as partners.

Relationships between senior managers and workers improved dramatically as senior leaders increasingly stepped into a supportive role model position, asking questions and listening on-site, removing roadblocks and barriers for project teams.

Attitudes improved with the relationships and were in the end characterized by employees workers seeking out opportunities to learn, and a strong lived value of care and concern for quality – for relationships, for communication, for planning, for execution.

The leadership team emerged as strong and cohesive, able to adapt, creative and bold in their vision and the actions they took. Over the course of the project they challenged even their own assumptions about what was – and wasn’t – possible.

For the Future

Our mission at APOGEO is to take what we’ve learned working in high stress, complex, large-scale projects and apply it to support global leaders serving the greater good. This means bringing expertise once only available to the wealthiest and largest companies to leaders in across sectors who are purpose-driven and in the midst of transition. We support leaders through deep listening, systems leadership, and developing and delivering programming that gets employees at every level of the organization engaged, inspired, and aligned.

This is such a special project - it is the first time that I walk to the site and I see people smiling while working. The programme helped us galvanise around common values, people feel the sincerity of our values, that they belong and are part of the family. The thing I like the best are the results – we have efficient teams, good progress – we are on time!