Silo mentalities in structural engineering and the disciplines needed to complete a successful construction project, create an unnecessary form of conflict –  Rhys Skym. Managing Director. SWJ Consulting. 

A silo mentality is a reluctance to share information. It inhibits a free flow of information, reduces efficiency, and can ultimately be responsible for low morale on a project. Worse still, a consequence can often be a negative client experience with increased frustrations, plus budget and timescale increases.

For me, there is nothing worse than when I have completed my part on a project but am forced to make changes because relevant information has not been shared in a timely fashion by another party. There are so many different specialities needed to successfully design and deliver a building to our clients – if we are not all working together and sharing information,  it is counterproductive. The architects, responsible for the look and function of the building, need to work with structural engineers to ensure their visions can be built. M&E contractors need to ensure that their requirements are being anticipated and planned for; it is not enough to approach a project with the attitude ‘it’s got to go there – that’s just the way it is.’

If designers remain solely in the realms of their discipline that is a potential disaster for the client. We, as structural engineers, need to be included so we understand exactly what they are trying to achieve; so we can ensure the building will work structurally and support what the other professions are trying to do. Failure to work together in this way inevitably ends up in finger-pointing and arguments. Ultimately, the client may not get what they wanted; a building not fit for purpose.

We encourage all the disciplines to work together from the early stages, to talk, state assumptions and most importantly communicate the implications of certain decisions. For example – we were working on a conference facility and the M&E contractors required last-minute changes because of the restricted means of serving the building. They had to have ducts in certain places, meaning we had to make changes including bigger, and more expensive steels. The new steels not only meant increased cost for the client but a delay in the delivery of the building. This is a perfect example of how teams need to work together from the start of the project; you can’t bring different disciplines in at different stages and not expect there to be issues.

The idea of BIM (building information modelling) was that working from a federated model (where a group of providers agrees on the standards of operation in a collective fashion) means – that in my previous example – there would be no excuse for us not knowing the beams were not big enough to force the route throughout. We would have had the right level of information, at the right time.

What we have seen with the emergence of BIM is a definite resistance to change. There was/is a cost implication to move forward, change, and embrace the time and technology it takes to work in true collaboration. Contractors may complain about the cost, but what about the cost of non-cooperation – being left behind – and possibly being the cause of budget and timing issues.

When I think about how efficient we are now (compared to 10 years ago), working like this – in collaboration with the right digital construction technology; it’s like night and day. It’s been a sea change in the speed and quality with which we work – a change other consultancies haven’t made.

Clients also need to take this learning on board. Take for example a design and build contract, where the M&E is a big-ticket item. There may be a delay in appointing the M&E contractor due to negotiations and bartering down the price. This delay to save budget in the first instance may end up being a false economy. If clients appoint the contractor early on, maybe not at the lowest of prices, they are likely to be compensated by fewer mistakes and RFI requests later in the project.

This kind of collaborative working, with the introduction of BIM, and the government’s insistence on it for large projects has meant that – despite the uptake being slow – collaborative working is more likely on big projects. It has yet to filter down to the day-to-day smaller projects, where budgets are tight, like schools and affordable housing.

At SWJ Consulting, we work hard to ensure that we are communicating effectively with all the other disciplines on a project, and encourage them to information share with us. We have invested in technology that means we clash detect our drawings with other contractors’ plans and drawings – and can move information between software packages – to eliminate duplication errors.

If you are interested in working with a consultancy that embraces the savings and efficiency that working in collaboration, rather than silo brings, then get in touch to talk about your project on 01993 225 085 or email We are specialists in dealing with complex designs, poor ground, and challenging conditions, and are happy to offer a no-win-no-fee feasibility study by way of introduction.