Collaboration and culture keys to superior capability

By Bernard Mills Regional Director Australia and New Zealand, Ultra Electronics

Major defence projects are often lauded for their technical wizardry – their size, scale, capability and the sheer magnitude of work performed to achieve success. For the people and companies operating within those projects however, it is the level of collaboration and team culture that they recognise as underpinning those more visible measures of success.

For government projects, and particularly those in the defence sector, this team culture has to occur at three levels. To get things right involves the close understanding of the respective governments, the companies involved, and most importantly the employees working together every day. And when this happens the benefits to Australia are deep.

A good example is that of Ultra Electronics, given the Company’s leadership in the development of sonar and electronic systems capability for the UK’s Type 23 and Type 26 vessels.

The award of the Air Warfare Destroyer contract enabled Ultra to invest in Australia, and the company has since gone on to double its workforce and capability in country over an eight year period. However, beyond its own growth, it is the benefits of the collaboration and culture at all three levels that continues to bring advantages as future projects progress.

The first level is the governmental level where the strong relationship between the UK and Australian governments, as well as those of other Commonwealth countries (most notably Canada), has provided invaluable information sharing and guidance on major programs such as the Future Frigate, and strong support to companies like BAE Systems, Ultra and others that deliver capability to those nations’ Navies.

The continued sharing at ministerial and senior naval levels, based on the strength of the alliance between these nations, means that companies are able to deliver equipment and platforms into a genuine political partnership, and into a common view of the international strategic environment. This is a huge advantage when delivering programs in the defence sector.

At the inter-company level, the investment and growth of companies like Ultra in Australia facilitates development of strong relationships and routine in-country experience of working together, negotiating, problem solving and sharing across multiple programs. This type of collaboration is very rare in more distant supply arrangements.

The nation’s industry doesn’t only develop skills in each company, but also an industry-wide skill of working together and teaming to deliver. This is true not only across large international companies with Australian workforces, but even more so between those large companies and the many small, but highly capable and innovative Australian SMEs, who contribute to projects.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for success, is the development of collaboration and team culture at the employee level. For Ultra this occurs in three ways, embedding team members from partner companies in project teams, regular exchanges of staff between Australia, the UK and other countries which work on capabilities relevant to Australia, and strong interaction with the Defence Science and Technology Group and other research bodies. Each of these initiatives have deepened the pool of available skills in areas of sovereign importance to Australia.

The future looks bright for collaboration and team culture in defence industry. The Australian Government’s $195bn investment program which features significant projects combined with a sharpened focus on long-term Australian capability, presents a significant opportunity that must be grasped. Current and future employees can take advantage of a pipeline of exciting work over many decades, building their skills and relationships for the future.

Companies such as BAE Systems and Ultra can further grow within Australia, bringing the ‘best of breed’ from their global organisations and partnering with local industry and research bodies to innovate and grow local capability. And allied governments can work together at a strategic level to ensure that the capability delivered to defence forces contributes to mutual interests and international security.

Australia is taking a major step as a nation, and projects like the SEA 5000 Future Frigates are key to ensuring that bright future.

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