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How to... collaborate effectively

Options:     Print Version - How to... collaborate effectively, part 2 Print view

Article Sections

  1. First steps
  2. Issues to address at the beginning
  3. As you go along
  4. Useful communication tools

Issues to address at the beginning

Managing expectations and uncertainties

You and your partners may be unclear about how things are going to go. It is likely that you spent most of the previous months (or years) putting in place all the things demanded by your funders and revising and rewriting your proposal to enhance its chances of success. But now you have to consider what you actually want to do.

It may be a good idea to get each partner to bring to the kick off meeting a short summary that they can talk through using your commitments to your funders as a foundation of course, but also outlining why they are in this project and what they hope to get out of it. Often these things take a back seat in the battle to secure funding – now is the time to bring them to the front so that you are aware of the variety of agendas, hopes and expectations which exist across the project.

Private communication – how does it happen?

We have pointed to this above as an important issue. Get it on your project agenda and get your partners to agree, to "sign up".

Don't be too ambitious or onerous – no-one wants to be writing daily reports on their work – but recognize that regular reporting and communication is essential. Not only because it allows the project manager to keep track of progress but because it makes everyone concerned step back from the minute by minute demands of the work to review progress and look at what they should be doing and what they should have done.

There is a list of communication ideas and tools at the bottom of this article – scan it and choose the ones that suit your project or your sub-projects. Or devise your own mechanisms to suit the team.

Public communication – getting your message across

Most funders will require you to present your results for public attention (and hopefully acclaim). It may seem premature to be thinking about this at the stage where you haven't done anything yet – but you need to develop a strategy now. Partly because it is only too easy to leave this till the end of the project when the funds are drying up and the researchers are moving on to other things, but also because it will reassure your funders that you are taking it seriously. From their point of view, they are investing large sums of money in you – they want the public to know what is happening with that money – this is part of being accountable.

So think about regular public newsletters – e-mail and/or paper versions, papers to conferences and poster sessions, briefing sessions with local papers and radio. Get these things happening now and encourage all your partners to participate fully.

Working together on this will foster team spirit and lay down a foundation for working on trickier things when the "real work" starts.

Learn about press releases and seek out the PR expertise that you can call on. When your research does begin to bear fruit you will have the mechanisms in place to disseminate news of your achievements.

Clear monitoring mechanisms, targets and deliverables

Of course you will already have agreed deliverables with your funder, but often these are big. In fact, if you have been sensible, you will have restricted your big deliverables so that there are a small number of identifiable targets for you and your funders to agree on.

But often these big deliverables are too big for the individual teams and team members to tackle. Split them up into "internal deliverables", "internal milestones" and "internal reports". Encourage frequent informal reporting and INSIST that any formal reporting requirements are met with plenty of time to spare.

On a large multi-partner project it is absolutely essential to have the necessary timesheets, expenditure summaries, etc. correctly completed and up to date and ready for submission well before the deadline. It is hard enough for you to manage your project effectively and efficiently, you don't want to shackle yourself by having your funder's administrative contact on your back – be a perfect project, at least in fulfilling your contractual requirements.

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