SCIRT (Stronger CHCH infrastructure rebuild team): Intentional leadership in action

SCIRT roadworks

Update January 2015 – SCIRT half way celebration video just released!

Leadership Lab has been involved with SCIRT over the last 2 years in a range of leadership development roles. SCIRT was created in 2011 to undertake the entire horizontal infrastructure rebuild (roads, storm water, sewerage, drinking water) across the whole of Christchurch, much of which was severely damaged after the quake on February 22nd 2011 and many aftershocks that followed. For the population of Christchurch, scenes like the one in the picture to the left are prolific all across the city, known to some as the ‘sea of orange cones’.  SCIRT is an alliance of five major construction companies that have created a commercial alliance to work collectively on this horizontal infrastructure rebuild project worth over two billion dollars.   Its work is split into two processes; the first of which is the work of the design team. This Integrated Services Team (IST)  is comprised of over 300 engineers, project managers and technical designers seconded from over 70 consultancy companies from around New Zealand and off shore.   The second process is the work of the delivery teams, comprised of very large construction teams from the five contributing construction companies (Fletchers, McConnell Dowell, Downers, City Care and Fulton Hogan and the multitude of construction companies that sub-contract to them. SCIRT has no direct employees; all staff are seconded to SCIRT from their ‘home organisation’ – one of the many companies involved in the SCIRT alliance. 

Leadership and Peak Performance

Initially in late 2012, Chris Jansen (Leadership Lab) and Mele Andrew (NZTA) undertook a formal evaluation of SCIRT’s Peak Performance framework. This framework’s purpose is to “not leave high performance to chance” and to “to create resilience and high performance in an environment of uncertainty”.  It includes the following six aspects all of which are intentionally designed and revised every 12 months to maximise SCIRT’s performance; 

Over the last year Leadership Lab has been involved in facilitating the Leadership Wave – a leadership development series for SCIRT’s Leadership Forum; a group of 75 key leaders across all aspects of SCIRT’s programme of work including management, design, and delivery of infrastructure construction.   The Leadership Wave model was created by SCIRT and includes the three aspects; 1) Leadership the driving force, 2) Leading Change and 3) Teamwork, followership and collaboration.  The Leadership Lab team of Dr Peter Cammock, Chris Jansen, Chris Mene and Kris Cooper have worked alongside SCIRT’s Human Resources and Peak Performance Manager, Belinda deSwart to design and deliver this programme.   Leadership Lab is also involved in facilitation of strategic planning, as well as coaching of several of SCIRT’s management team using the Leadership Circle 360 Psychometric profile.  


SCIRT has made extraordinary progress towards it goals over a very short timeframe; 80% of the design work was completed by the beginning of 2014 and 30% of the construction has been completed by the delivery teams.  The IST produces over 10 million dollars’ worth of design each month and each delivery team has lifted their construction completion from initially around one million per month to now over ten million per month in each of the five delivery teams.  SCIRT monitors its staff engagement through a quarterly engagement and alignment survey with results indicating that staff engagement is hovering at around 80% over the last two years. Based on the evaluation, team member initiative and sense of shared community and enterprise in the SCIRT IST office was clearly evident and the sense of team and discretionary effort was palpable. 

A living example of complexity leadership

From a complexity leadership perspective, SCIRT has worked hard to create the conditions for both self-organisation and the hybridization of this self-organisation with formal structures for finance, accountability and work quality assurance.  In the 2013 external evaluation SCIRT was highly commended for the clarity and effectiveness of the 2012 Peak Performance Framework; being described as a best practice example of intentionally designing key organisational structures and processes to develop a high performance culture. 

SCIRT vision

When undertaking the interviews for this PPF Review with over 40 staff from all levels of the organisation, we were surprised that without prompting almost all of them articulated that the SCIRT vision was a paramount motivation for them (see photo to the right).  In complexity thinking language, this vision acted as an immensely motivating attractor with regards to the opportunity to contribute to getting ‘our city’ back on its feet after such an enormous threat and to maximise ‘value for money for the tax payer. It is clear that team members’ alignment to the noble purpose and values of SCIRT has generated deep commitment from team members.

A second attractor also exists that is maximising return to each company.  SCIRT’s alliance contracting is a new phenomenon in New Zealand.  Essentially its intent is to ensure proactive collaborative behaviour between the organisations in the alliance where in the past they would have competed fiercely on the open market.  SCIRT has a process called ‘pain-gain’.  Each month the five delivery teams are all allotted the same amount of work to complete at a pre-set price and they are measured on their performance.   If at the end of the month one team has completed their work for under the set price – this ‘profit’ is placed in a central pool.  Likewise if another delivery team has a difficult month and goes over budget, this ‘loss’ also is placed in the collective pool.  This profit (gain) or loss (pain) is then shared equally by all five delivery teams.   This creates a powerful incentive for each delivery team to ensure that the other four teams are also succeeding.  The consequences of this are immediate collaborative support, information and innovation sharing and resource pooling.   In complexity thinking, this is an example of a powerful enabling constraint which facilitates the opportunity for self-organisation (in this case collaboration) to occur.  

SCIRT also has key performance indicators for health and safety, staff wellness, community engagement, design innovation and environmental impact and all of these KPIs are included in the pain-gain mechanism. Additionally SCIRT has developed many processes that maximise the other three conditions for self-organisation.   Staff are encouraged to be independent agents through the rapid prototyping of innovative solutions, quarterly performance reviews, comprehensive wellness initiatives, and a suite of training opportunities including leadership workshops and coaching.  

Communication and interaction with neighbours is maximised through mechanisms such as weekly lunch and learn forums, an open plan office structure , the encouragement to talk to people face-to-face instead of using emails, regular social events and ‘community celebrations’, and internal communication through multiple media channels.  Decentralised control is leveraged through an open door policy with all levels of management, regular role rotation, cross functional teams based around key areas of performance including the KPIs mentioned above.  

Team member groups we talked to could reference the positive difference between SCIRT and their home organisations in terms of noble purpose, goal orientation, achievement focus, collaboration and an absence of bureaucracy. The linkages they made were unprompted by us as reviewers.  As reviewers, alignment to this level is not seen as common practice in New Zealand organisations. 

The last question in each of the evaluation interviews with those involved was ‘What have you learnt and experienced during your time at SCIRT that you believe would be invaluable for your home organisation to adopt?’.  The outpouring of enthusiast responses to this question was not anticipated; a small sample of the responses are listed below;

SCIRT’s programme of horizontal infrastructure construction and repair is scheduled to be complete by December 2016.  The external operating environment will continue to have elements of complexity and uncertainty combined with increased scrutiny and political influence. Internally, as different phases of the project lifecycle transition into wind down phase, this will need to be managed well. However, SCIRT stands out as one of the shining examples of collaboration and peak performance in the rebuild of Christchurch and this reputation is not accidental, it is the result of innovative leadership.    


“SCIRT first engaged Leadership Lab in 2012 to critically assess our Peak Performance Plan and provide recommendations on areas for improvement for the next planning horizon. Since then we have engaged Leadership Lab in a number of Peak Performance strategies: Executive one to one Coaching, Strategic Leadership planning days, senior and middle leadership one to one coaching, 360 leadership assessment and coaching, and a series of workshops for 70 leaders across SCIRT. A number of our leaders also have attended the open enrolement Leading Change programme run by Leadership Lab. There are two key standout features of the Leadership Lab which are why we will continue to work with them

1) They are quick to get to understand the essence of where our organisation and leaders are at and partner with us to develop bespoke and integrated solutions to lift the performance of both and;

2) The depth of capability of the Leadership Lab team mean that solutions and coaching is not only sound but goes to the heart of the matter. This, along with commitment for sustainable change, result in shifts that go beyond surface impact.

The highest recommendation I can give Leadership Lab is that we will absolutely continue to tap into their expertise to assist us to “Not Leave High Performance to Chance”.

                                                  Belinda de Zwart, SCIRT HR & Peak Performance Manager