It’s not very often you hear people say they are genuinely proud of where they work; its people, its achievements and reputation in the marketplace.

Cliché’s aside, I’m not embarrassed to say that about SMEC.

As the Market Director of Geotechnics and Tunnels, managing a team of 160 passionate employees across Australia, I have a job that I love.

Despite the challenges of managing and working with a team spanning thousands of kilometres, we have developed a high performing team. But I won’t and can’t take credit for it all.  Each and every person who makes up the team has a role to play to ensure we are delivering for our clients and that individually, we are building capability.

Developing high performing teams

The term ‘high performing’ is a broad concept but it’s about creating an environment for each person – whether a senior team member or a graduate out of university– that encourages them to thrive, innovate and learn from others. To be the best they can be.

First and foremost, it’s about developing the team’s technical expertise so they are confident to take on the challenging projects.  Building a psychologically safe environment for the team encourages them to seek feedback and develop skills without judgement.

It’s also important that teams are given the opportunity to bond outside of work.  Culturally we do a lot together with our people getting involved as teams in charity walks, cycling, fun runs and other activities.

The adage saying the team that plays together stays together is true.  But play doesn’t always have to be about drinking after work!

What makes the team interesting is our skill sets aren’t the same.  We can’t all be a wicket keeper in a game of cricket or the fast bowler who relishes in all the glory. You would get nowhere fast and this is the case with a comprehensive engineering firm like SMEC.  To succeed you need diversity and this is represented in our team.

Not every team player is fast bowler like Mitchell Stark!

What makes the team interesting is our skill sets aren’t the same.  We can’t all be a wicket keeper in a game of cricket or the fast bowler who relishes in all the glory. You would get nowhere fast and this is the case with a comprehensive engineering firm like SMEC.  To succeed you need diversity and this is represented in our team.

This culture is what sets us apart. We embrace our individual differences. You can’t build a well-rounded team based on technical nouse alone; it’s a person’s personality and ‘soft’ skills and attributes that must come into play.

People + Clients = Best projects

And the formula is simple in theory: Bringing the best out of our people and working with the best people allows us to work with the best clients. The result? We secure and deliver the best projects.

The formula might seem straightforward but a lot of ingenuity, bravery and innovation link this all together to achieve the outcome.

Eighteen months ago, we worked with a client on a project, building a solar farm.  Usually a project like this comprises of 60,000 posts that are founded about four metres into the ground.

The team took the time to evaluate the risks and opportunities with the client and by delving deeper, found we could install posts with 2-metre deep foundations.  This uncomplicated solution resulted in millions of dollars’ worth of savings in capital expenditure on the project.

We’re leading the way in the digital engineering space, which I think is down to our people-approach.  We can truly innovate on projects because we give people the space and time they need to think about solutions and utilise the tools at hand.

Why I work at SMEC

I had several engineering roles before joining SMEC. It was the reputation of its experts, its flat structure and philosophy in investing in its people that drew me to work here.

I don’t consider myself to be the smartest engineer around, but I know how to bring a team together and provide an environment to bring out the best in the team. What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that we are making a difference to our clients and the people who work with me; that we are solving their problems.  And I can only do this with easy access to the ultimate brains trust of our industry.

Out of 160, we have 155 team members who are tertiary qualified and 12 of them have PhDs in the field.  We have several people in the team who lecture at universities and the links between academia, research and the application of this knowledge in industry are very strong.

Respect, integrity and passion

The environment we work in may be fast-paced and forever changing but the fundamentals of building a great team culture, based on respect, integrity and passion can never be overlooked.

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Author Dayan Jayasekera

Dayan Jayasekera is Market Director of Geotechnics and Tunnels at SMEC.

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