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How to... collaborate effectively

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First steps

So we assume that you have made a successful research proposal or gained funding in some way for a collaborative project. Even before you start planning your work, and certainly before any money starts flowing, you should have a number of things in place:

  • A consortium agreement
  • Channels of communication
  • Kick off meeting(s).

A consortium agreement

Most funders will insist on seeing a copy of this with your application. Be sure you know exactly what it says, you may all be collectively responsible for any individual partner's lapses – a good reason for establishing excellent communication.

Channels of communication

Set up channels which suit your particular group. Consider a small number of focused e-mail discussion lists. Make sure that all partners are represented at a management level on an appropriate list, so that appropriate people can deal with matters of funding, reporting and administration and so that these matters are not drowned in a welter of details about the work. Most people prefer to "do real stuff" and let someone else worry about administrative and financial hassle – make sure your project management people are not left isolated while the researchers are researching and the developers developing.

Kick off meeting(s)

Even if you plan to use electronic or telephonic tools to aid remote collaboration, it is important to have face-to-face contact at the beginning of the project. Weight your meeting schedule towards the beginning of the project for this reason. It is much easier to sort things out by e-mail with your collaborators if you have spent the day talking together and the evening having dinner a few months before.

Some people resist travelling – try to include them anyway, by rotating meeting venues or scheduling meetings around other events such as conferences or workshops. It has even been known to be popular to hold meetings in attractive venues or in a big city in December when lots of people want to buy presents! Take advantage of such things to include as many of your project team as possible. Keeping the team happy and working together well will save a lot of time and hassle later on.