01/09/17, Willie MacColl

Building bridges; cultural foundations

This week the Queensferry Crossing opened, an engineering feat, history in the making. The radio montage “The Queensferry Crossing” on BBC Radio Scotland explained how this wondrous construction is already a global attraction – it’s the largest bridge of its kind in the world and is able to withstand all kinds of Scottish weather and rigours. 

The new bridge spans the mighty Forth river, itself a powerful force.  It’s an engineering accomplishment: from development the design started from the foundations.  One engineer commented that the human-eye/mind favours simple lines and the engineers looked for simple lines and concepts to give strength and longevity. The journalist remarked that this was underpinned by a lot of well thought through engineering – it’s a construction built from other smaller constructions.  

In numbers: the Queensferry Crossing is 1.7 miles long; cost £1.45bn (down from £4.4bn estimate); contains 35,000 tons of steel; is made up of 23,000 miles of cable and150,000 tons of concrete. 7 wires make a strand; 109 strands in each stay and 288 stays.  On the people side, many skilled men and women have worked together so very hard to raise the bridge from its foundations - 10 million hours of peoples’ time was used in the project. 

While all this was going on, in my role as a Remarkable Specialist, I was in the North East of Scotland with a roomful of business leaders and senior figures speaking about Company Culture.  Our aim: to discuss, describe, assess and improve Culture – a mainstay in the Workplace.  

This was the first of a series of events (look-out for more) through which we started to develop our basic understanding. 17 companies were represented, 20 senior figures and between us, we had an estimated 350 years of experience.  During the session, we recognised that culture was like a bridge: something that spans generations, teams… you get the picture. It has to stand on a strong foundation, solid and immovable in some respects, but with a need to flex and respond to the changes in temperature and weather. You might be interested to know, the bridge’s movement is significant (7m horizontally) yet too small for drivers to notice. The bridge engineers remarked that it is rarely the wind that causes the dynamic problems but rather the resonance or stalling that can take place.

Our group found they agreed their cultures may be stronger and more tangible if they could build strong, smaller components. 

This was but the start of journey for us and the parallels were remarkable: the bridge will last 150-200 years. Here’s hoping we can build such strong and lasting cultures in our organisations too.


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