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Intentional Teams – Stories from the Field

Strong leadership is key to team success. It provides focus, discipline and energy. Here are three case studies about leadership in the mining industry.

The Bad Apple

On a major mining project, the engineering contractor was also manager for the project, but the relationship between the engineering company project manager and the owner’s team was in trouble. The project manager felt another contractor who had a history of working with the owner company was trying to take over the engineering contract. This contractor and a key person on the owner’s team had a personal relationship. That person was difficult, and negatively impacting the team.

This put the project manager of the engineering company project in a tough position. The ‘bad apple’ had a close relationship with the President of the mining company, and the manager from the engineering company found it hard to communicate bad news about the problem person.

What to do? Start with the contract and find a solution without the problem person leaving the project. You can switch them to another role, take them out of the organization, or mentor the person while keeping them in the role.

On this project, the person was replaced. The leader of the owner’s team recognized the damage to morale and productivity, and took action.


  • Leaving a problem too long comes back to haunt you.
  • Open, honest communication helps resolve pivotal issues early.
  • Keep personal relationships out of the mix through professional conduct and adherence to the contract.

They’re Clients?

The procurement department of a large mining company imposed strict policies and insisted that local units it served follow them. Long-standing supplier relationships in remote locations where the company operated were ignored or overruled. The global company HQR was in another country, and local units felt procurement was insensitive and inflexible about local relationships. Procurement became a bottleneck by imposing restrictions on work flow.

The procurement director must balance the global organization’s need for profitability with the need for success of local business units. This means balancing two sets of customers. Procurement can’t meet the needs of the global organization and ignore local needs. Nor can it afford to serve local needs to the global organization’s detriment. The procurement director should “think globally, act locally.” That means listening to people in local business units, visiting their offices, and going to the sites.


  • Know what others in the flow of work require, and when.
  • Build strategic relationships with everyone involved.
  • Do everything possible to reduce bottlenecks.

One Team, Two Identities

On a large mining project the project team was split between the engineering/project management group, and the owner’s group that was part of the project team. There were separate email lists, presentations were ‘branded’ with the company logo, and team members were located with members of their own company. There were two groups, each with similar objectives, and some duplicated roles and functions. But no notion of One Team. The leader of the team on the owner’s side did something about it.

The team held quarterly milestone meetings focused on finding and resolving issues that held back the team. One member became responsible for collective action plans with authority to convene meetings, follow up with work package leads, and ensure that work packages were being led effectively.

The project director organized team members in functional groups, not by their ‘home’ organization, to encourage communication and interdependence. The project ‘rebranded’ itself with hats and jackets displaying the project name. This discouraged team members from wearing garments with the name of their own organization. Bonuses and compensation were harmonized so everyone on the project had common guidelines for compensation. And project team members started building a true sense of being a single team.


  • Leadership is a contact sport requiring more than words.
  • Changing team culture comes from planned activities that are treated as mini projects with their own resources.

Good leadership is flexible. There are times to lead from the front and pull everyone along, and times to lead from behind and push them forward. It’s about nurturing and being decisive where necessary, and building future leaders.

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