How to Improve Project Collaboration

Complex projects will involve teams from different parts of your organisation or from multiple organisations, some of whom could be competitors on a different project. It would be hoped that the common goal of project completion will encourage the different interests to work together to resolve any problems quickly so that the task gets done on time and to specification. Our experience has been that hope alone is rarely enough for effective collaboration to thrive.

“Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success” Gratton and Erickson, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2007 

If you want your team to work successfully  in a collaborative manner you will need to take positive action to embed the behaviours that will encourage co-operative and will  overcome the natural tendencies to privatize knowledge and to be competitive.

Feeding back 2

You could put on a training programme but this can often be theoretically and not always applied in practice we find it better to make a number of live interventions once a project team has mobilised. Of course these interventions will only work if the culture of all the organisations involved are supportive to collaboration and if this is something that senior leaders consciously demonstrate during their work. If the culture is in place then our three easy interventions will help you as the project leader to drive the change you want so that collaboration becomes a key element to your project success.

Stage One: Establishing the Collaborative Team

This stage will involve a number of activities but a crucial element will be a face to face event. The value of face to face conversations are hard to fully replicate in other ways so unless it is just impossible  find a time and place to physically connect. The amount of time for this varies but often the 24 hour retreat – 13.00 – to 13.00 works well, as it provides time to connect socially as well as professionally.

This event is an opportunity for your team to work collaboratively together on a number of real challenges and tasks you need to do to kick off the project. This will include the following activities:

  • Setting the project vision – appreciating the different expectations of success can help your team to find “win win” solutions to challenges that they will face during the life time of your project.
  • Exploring Expertise- highly intelligent and skilled professionals often do not explain their expertise in an accessible manner and this can be a source of conflict when their expertise is not fully utilised later in the project. Providing time for your team to share and appreciate the range of skills and expertise they have will work much better than playing any number of “trust games”
  • Exploring Behavioural Expectations – this is a really important activity because it will involve you sharing your expectations of behaviours to support collaboration. You can use the results of this activity later on in project reviews to provide an easy forum for team members to address behaviour that is not supporting the project.

Groups discussing

Stage 2 – Project Team Collaboration Reviews

The number and timings of these collaborative reviews will vary but the critical element is that there is space provided to specifically explore collaboration and not just talk about the project goals and milestones. Sometimes these reviews are done virtually and sometimes a combination of virtual team meet ups and face to face sessions are used.

  • Reviewing the Vision – you can review the vision from the start-up session and ask the team to identify the activities that have directly addressed the overall vision for the project. You can explore alignment between the collaborative behaviours and the project vision.
  • Updating Expertise– sharing learning and identifying any gaps in knowledge, skills or behaviour will help your team make better use of its resources. A useful method for this are action learning groups. These give you a face to face or virtual space to explore learning from the project and identify any gaps in knowledge/skills.
  • Reviewing and resetting expectations – you can covert the discussion about behaviour in the start up to a quick “temperature” checking tool. Your team can self assess the levels of collaboration in the project team. You can collate the resut and share these with the team to help you all explore both successes and challenges in behaviours and agree a options to further develop your collaborative work.

Clustering postits large scale

Stage 3 – Celebrating the Collaboration

A frequently overlooked intervention is an opportunity to review and celebrate your project collaboration . This can be done with a series of interventions, it does not have to be a face to face event. Some elements you will find useful include:

  • Reviewing the Vision– reflecting on your shared vision at your first project session and exploring how this differs from the project outcome. This is a great time for you to ask questions about the difference between aspirations and the realities of projects and to explore the impact of this mismatch
  • Celebrating expertise and skills – during the project your team  will have developed their skills and expertise so it is about providing a way of charting this growth in a shared format.
  • Reviewing behaviour – if your team are likely to bid for future work on collaborative frameworks then taking time to honestly reflect on the collaborative behaviours shown is a the best way to prepare your team to perform at even higher levels on the next project.
  • Recording the story of the project creating a story board of all the photos and key stages to your project can be a good way of celebrating your journey. This can be done easily using an on-line pinboard facility.

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The interventions outlined above are things you can do as the project leader. You may to engage a neutral facilitator to work with you so that you can participate in the discussions and leave someone else to worry about the process. Whether you work independently or with a facilitator you will find that giving this focus on collaboration will help your team avoid some of the conflict that can often set project team behind schedule.

If you want to have an informal, free chat with one of our team we have facilitators working across the  the UK and Europe and we can call by for a face to face dicussion or connect virtually with you to talk about improving collaboration

Christine Bell

Contact us





Collaboration – industry/academics

What was the collaborative challenge?

Mapp is a funded Manufacturing Hub for the UK Research focusing on advanced powder processes. The team has a vision to use powder-based manufacturing to provide low energy, low cost and low waste high value manufacturing options. The team combines cutting edge research innovation with practical application within manufacturing. It has therefore been critical throughout the project to engage and consult with industrial partners.

The team wanted to run an update for their industrial partners that went beyond the standard presentation and lunch/networking. They wanted the event to be immersive and to provide opportunities throughout for academics and industrial partners to really connect together so that future collaboration would be possible.

They sought out professional facilitators to work with them on the design and facilitation of the event so that it would be engaging, active and distinctive

What was the impact of event?

The workshop has been instrumental in terms of developing our relationships with industry partners – we have a deeper understanding of how they want to work with us and some new ideas for collaborative projects – Dr Richard France

During the event the frequent changes of groups provided many opportunities for discussion and connection. The final activity was an open forum which provided the opportunity for individuals to propose ideas for future investigation and gain insight from others on this idea. We knew the connecting had worked well because many of the group stayed after the event had closed to continue their conversations and exchange contact details.

The event generated new ideas for collaborative projects. All partners were able to articulate their expectations of each other and this has helped provide clearer guidance for effective collaborative relationships

What were the benefits of working with facilitators?

The format of the day meant that participants were kept engaged throughout; there was none of the usual “drift” after lunch.

By working closely with us the team created a format which met their needs and had clearly defined outputs which we helped to capture so they had a record to take forward to develop the project

Christine and the team did a great job of tailoring a workshop format which met our needs and kept delegates engaged throughout the day. Dr Richard France

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If you would like to speak to us about arranging a similar event please Christine or Lucy  on 08456 210008 or send an email to:




Powerful Annual Team Plans

Many organisations have an annual planning cycle in which teams work out together their individual and collective priorities for the year.  Team objectives and personal performance contracts negotiated with the boss, or worse, copied from the schedule the planners gave you, implicitly have low ownership by the team.

The best teams we have worked with break this cycle by taking a time-out to get the whole team together and answer questions like:

  • What should we be doing, given our purpose/role in this organisation?
  • How can we add more value for the organisation and our external and internal customers?
  • How can we work more effectively as a team to deliver great results?

One team at the oil company BP chose to do this through a facilitated process as part of their quarterly team meeting.  The objectives were to (i) generate collective ownership for an integrated team plan (ii) get team members to understand and connect with each other’s priorities (iii) identify owners for key tasks such as continuous improvement activity that did not align neatly with job roles.

A collaborative plan builds clear links for team members with the big priorities including measures of success.  Working collaboratively also provides the opportunity to get everything on the table, reducing delivery risks.

Making this Happen

Collaboration on a joint plan needs time away from day to day work. A facilitated workshop really helps this process and gives teams time to work on their behaviours and to explore their objectives in more detail.

The key to this is focusing on the team objectives first and being honest about the priorities and focus that will be needed for the team to be successful.

Once this is done then individuals can draft their own objectives so that these directly support the team objectives.

These are discussed in the team and individuals are accountable to the wider team for the achievement of their personal objectives.

For projects, alignment of objectives is even more critical especially if you’d like to involve the client, prime contractor and supply chain partners.  We recommend a workshop process that emerged from the work of Andersen, Grude and Haug and that they called Goal Directed Project Management.

It was later adopted by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and uses elements of systems thinking to address the co-dependencies, interdependencies and operability of complex projects.





Customer Consultation Panels

Great Western Railways wanted to re-establish their Customer Panel organisation, to provide a forum for a broader base of customers to engage with the organisation. The intention was for the panels to be a combination of information about corporate strategy, current activity and performance with the opportunity for customers to question mid-senior level managers on specific topics.

Our company was approached because of our specialism in facilitation and our track record in facilitating a range of consultation events for a broad range of clients. Our chosen facilitator has a strong background and qualification in mediation which was felt to be of benefit in this situation

Our Approach to the Design

In the design phase we explored with the client the specific requirements for this project. This exploration gave us insights into the expectation of the role of the facilitation and the importance of being able to provide a neutral presence at the event.

We used a collaborative design approach and over a series of phone calls and emails we agreed with the client the event logistics and timing and the facilities. We explored the role of the managers/speakers who would be attending the event and their style and aptitude for this important customer facing event.

Facilitating the Event

It was agreed that the event should work in an informal way, rather than having a “panel” of managers at the front of the room, presenting to and answering questions from the audience. This would enable the GWR staff to sit at tables with the customers, leading to a less confrontational environment. However this requires a more complex facilitation style. The facilitator used nonverbal signals to the presenters, ensuring they endeavored to keep their presentations to time without having to interrupt the presentation.

Once presentations were over the facilitator managed a question and answer session, identifying those who wanted to question and making sure each individual was heard. Additionally use of body language to “close down” those who were trying to ask second questions. This method helped to reduce the need for “verbally shutting people down” that can often result in upset and emotive responses. Additionally the facilitator worked hard to make sure that the room understood when there was a ‘“final” question on a subject, so closing each section of the meeting ready to move to the next and therefore keep the whole meeting to time.

Post Event

The facilitator had a follow up meeting to discuss the event and to draw out learning from the event, to take forward for any further customer panel meetings. Feedback from the event was positive, with key GWR staff noting the lack of confrontation that had been experienced at other customer panel events. GWR customers also noted that everyone who had wanted to question or contribute had been given the opportunity and the event ran to time.

Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

Strategic Planning in a World of Uncertainty

In the UK there seems to be consensus on just one issue, uncertainty has increased since the UK Brexit vote on 23rd June. In our organisations, one key question is how to manage uncertainty and lead our organisations through the coming months and years?


As the floods have taught us, nothing is predictable and stable!

Today’s UK situation reminds me of a business situation I experienced several years ago. During this period of uncertainty we ran a series of workshops using the ‘exploratory approach’ to Scenario Planning.  This workshops had a big impact on our business and helped us to move forward through the ‘fog’ with some confidence – we managed uncertainty.

The situation then, in early 1990’s, was that the company I worked for faced a high degree of technical uncertainty. The company was very successful in fixed cabled voice telephones. All around the world was changing rapidly. Desktop computing, mobile computing, mobile telephony, high speed data, wireless technology were all perceived as an opportunity, or threat, to the company’s traditional technology and product base.

Using Scenario Planning

I was part of the management team that addressed this, assisted by external facilitators, using the exploratory approach to scenario planning. People with differing perspectives worked together in workshops to describe 4 alternative, but possible futures. The possibilities were that the future of communication would be dominated by

  • Low Cost
  •  High data rate demand;
  •  Maximum mobility;
  •   Maximum security (of information)

The objective was not to predict what the future would be, (that was too uncertain), rather to create a series of plausible futures. This approach had the advantage that different perspectives were automatically valued and listened to and captured. (Interestingly, 30 years on, we could debate how things have evolved. In practice, I believe that it is a hybrid of the possible scenario worlds we described at that time).
Once we had defined the 4 plausible futures or ‘scenarios’ we looked at each in turn and addressed what actions (e.g. technology development, product development, skills development), we could take to prepare ourselves to prosper in that world. When that was completed for all 4 plausible futures, we found that some actions were appropriate for all 4 of the different scenarios; whilst some actions were unique to a single scenario.


The important point is that the work we did on the scenarios enabled the marketing, technology and new product development teams to prioritise and focus on actions which would be very relevant, useful and revenue generating in 2 or 3 of the scenarios.

Decisions were made and we emerged from the process with a clear agreed plan of strategic and tactical actions – we were managing in uncertainty!

Nigel Chapman, Director, Centre for Facilitation

To discuss ideas for future strategy planning events contact us via our website

Making Business Meetings Productive

Business meetings are often limited to 1 to 2 hours. They need to be tightly controlled to avoid overrunning and to make sure that you make effective use of everyone attending.

Contrary to some popular belief, meetings can be useful if run effectively.  Many organisations use meetings well to:

  • Have a dialogue to reach a decision of importance the organisation/project/team
  • Identify key themes for a future strategy or plan
  • Share challenges and explore options to address these

Last night was a significant achievement for the club. We made key decisions about important issues and were finished by 9.30. There were smiles and people are now looking forward to future meetings. Thanks for helping us to change the way we do things – Paul Luxton

To create a useful meeting a few simple steps can help you along the pathway to productivity.


Clarify the Purpose

What is the meeting for? Too many meetings exist because historically they have always done so. In the days before electronic communication meetings were an effective way of getting a message out to everyone at one time but to just use a meeting as a one way information giving forum is a total waste of time. Using email, social media and discussion boards will achieve this end more effectively.

Once you are clear on the purpose of the meeting you can decide who needs to be involved and then get down to the business of setting the agenda about what needs to be discussed. Check out ABC of meetings

Manage the Agenda

Your agenda for your meeting is an essential planning tool. It should set out why each item is being discussed, what outcome you need from the meeting (eg a decision, a commitment for action) and should give an allocation of time based which is agreed with the item presenter.

We intervened with a community sports group who had a regular business meeting which started at 7.45 and often did not finish until 10.45. The team recognised that they had a problem and that “the kind of meetings we have now are neither enjoyable, productive or sustainable”.

We worked with the chair and secretary to analyse the last three meetings and to review the purpose of their face to face meetings. We used this to create a list of guidelines to club members setting out the criteria for bringing items to the committee and some other options that could be used to disseminate information.

The result was that the following committee meeting had a limited agenda and was over in 1.5 hours leaving the committee time to talk to each other and socialise, sharing their love of their sport.


Reviewing agendas

Making Decisions

Most items discussed at a meeting will result in a decision. Be clear about whether that decision needs to be made by a majority vote or by reaching consensus. If aiming for consensus you need to provide more time to allow clarification of concerns to be raised and have a clear process to follow

A major engineering project was starting to fall behind schedule due to communication issues and conflict between the three project teams. We facilitated a process so the teams could outline their expectations of each other’s behaviour. It was important that everyone was involved in the decision about behavioural expectations so we used the colour consensus cards so people could flag green for agreement, red for disagreement and yellow for some concerns.

Items were only accepted if we could reach a mainly green/yellow consensus. If there were any red cards showing after the consensus discussion the item had to be put to one side.  Although this is not a quick process it does make sure that only items that have full commitment are agreed to.

Other methods to make decisions are to take a vote of members and make the decision based on the majority viewpoint.  In smaller groups it is better to ask each attendee to state their position by going round in turn. This can help the views of the minority be heard and also makes it harder to make a decision because the chair assumes everyone is in agreement.

We worked with a community gardening project who had reached stalemate on a decision, they just could not reach consensus. We guided a structured process to explore both the advantages and disadvantages of the two options and then did a final round to hear what everyone’s preference was for. It was clear that the majority preferred one option and it was helpful for this to be heard so that although consensus could not be reached the two members who opposed the option were able to accept that this was the overall preference for the whole group and they stepped back from their opposition.

“I know we did not reach a consensus and we are losing two people but this has happened in a moving forward and respectful manner” Roxanna Summers, Back to Front

Allocate Actions

A meeting with no action is pointless. You also want to avoid the actions all being allocated for one person (often the chair!) Two tips which often help are:

  • Prepare a wall chart with everyone’s name on it and then space for actions to be recorded against their name, this avoids some leaving the meeting with lots of actions and some with none. It makes it very visual and can help to prompt the chair to remind people to commit to a specific action.
  • The chair of the meeting can respond proactively to comments made during the meeting to convert these into action – “thanks for that x, can you follow that up with x and email out the outcome, we will record that in the action plan”



The minutes can be drafted in advance based on the purpose of each item so they use the agenda to shape an introduction to each item and the purpose of the discussion and then record the actions to be taken.

It is useful to summarise the planned actions in an action plan as well so that there is an easy document to track progress before the next meeting.

Part of the planning for the next meeting will involve the chair or secretary reviewing the agreed actions and checking on progress so this can be minuted in advance of the meeting and a very short verbal overview given.

Review what went well and how to improve

At the end of the meeting set aside 5-10 minutes to share what worked well and to give constructive tips for the next meeting. Read our blog on Agile Team Working – making time to talk

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

If you would like one of our facilitators to talk to you about how to make your meetings more focused, engaging, productive and shorter then give us a call.


Why People Resist Change

Resistance to change is the act of opposing or struggling with modifications or transformations that alter the status quo in the workplace.

 Reading an article I was reminded what a great impact resistance to change can have on the success of a change programme.

82% of contributors indicated that the main reason for change failing was resistance to the change .

In 2011 Bauer And Erdogan classified resistors based on individuals reaction to change.


Attitudes to Change

Active resistance is the most negative reaction to a proposed change attempt.  Those who engage in active resistance may sabotage the change effort and be outspoken objectors to the new procedures.  In contrast, passive resistance involves being disturbed by changes without necessarily voicing these opinions.  Instead, passive resisters may dislike the change quietly, feel stressed and unhappy, and even look for a new job without necessarily bringing their concerns to the attention of decision makers.  Compliance, however, involves going along with proposed changes with little enthusiasm.  Finally, those who show enthusiastic support are defenders of the new way and actually encourage others around them to give support to the change effort as well.

The reasons why individuals show passive or active resistance to change are:

  • Disrupted Habits Individuals often resist change for the simple reason that change disrupts our habits.  Habits make life easy.  For this simple reason, people are sometimes surprisingly outspoken when confronted with simple changes at work.
  • Personality Some individuals are more resistant to change than others. Some may view change as an opportunity to shine others as a threat that is overwhelming. For individuals who are risk-avoidant, the possibility of a change be more threatening.
  • Feelings of Uncertainty Change inevitably bring feelings of uncertainty. The feeling that the future is unclear is enough to create stress for people because it leads to a sense of lost control.
  • Fear of Failure Individuals also resist change when they feel that their performance may be affected.  Those who feel that they can perform well as a result of the changes are more likely to be committed, while those who have lower confidence in their ability to perform after changes are less committed.
  • Personal Impact of Change Individuals tend to be more welcoming of change that is favorable to them on a personal level such as improving their quality of life or work life balance, or removing conflict.
  • Prevalence of Change Any change effort should be considered within the context of all the other changes that are introduced in a company. If other recent changes have failed there will be an increased resistance to further change.
  • Perceived Loss of Power One other reason individuals may resist change is that change may affect their power and influence in the organization. Any loss in prestige and status, even if only perceived will result in resistance to the change.

Do we do enough when managing change to support those showing resistance to overcome their concerns and increase the number of enthusiastic supporters?

Taking the fact that 82% of change fails as a result of resistance to change as an indicator; there is a need to do considerably more than we currently do.

Ensure you have the capacity to spend time with individuals.  Take the time to understand:

  1. What the specific changes will include
  2. Who the changes will impact
  3. How these changes will impact on an individual basis
  4. Why each individual might resist the changes

You will then have a degree of empathy to support each individual with his or her specific concerns and follow this understanding up by:

  •  Having open and honest conversations
  • Giving a strong and powerful rationale for change
  • Creating opportunities for collaborative working
  • Involving those that do the work in shaping solutions to problems
  • Agreeing how to continue to support the individual and commit to follow-up
  • Keeping anything shared in confidence to yourself

To discuss ideas for how to get people more engaged with changes before, during and after implementation contact us

Lucy Brownsdon, Director, Centre for Facilitation

Time to Innovate

One of the reactions to our stories of facilitating the EPSRC Sandpit process is surprise about the amount of time that it takes. A fully formed Sandpit/Innovation Lab is a five day event which is a fully immersed residential community experience. There is a process to which provides a different focus for each of the five days and as facilitators we keep the process keeps moving forward so that at the end of the event the funding decisions can be made in a robust and fair manner.

Clustering Ideas Open Space

If you put a group of people in a room and tell them to come up with a new and totally radical idea that has never been thought of before it will take time. Initially people will share ideas that they were already thinking about. By using a process of reflection, challenging, discussion and creative thinking a process can start where these ideas get put to one side allowing space for the truly radical insights to emerge.

Developing Ideas Groupwork

It is possible to do innovation events in shorter periods of time. Sometimes a few hours is all that is available to bring people together to develop new ideas for products, services or research. The time together allows people to start to share emerging ideas, to develop these ideas and to then go away either individually or in teams to work up these ideas into a project/idea proposal.

Using a short burst approach works well if the follow up is part of the process. We work with groups to make sure that by the end of the “innovation lab” workshop  initial ideas are captured. These are written up and shared with the group. Further follow up conversations are initiated to see which of these ideas are worth exploring further. Having a presentation event planned for 6 weeks after the innovation event can provide enough of a focus to keep the momentum going and allow people time to further develop their ideas before sharing them for consideration for further funding or research.

To discuss ideas for Innovation events contact us directly


Collaborative Venues

Very frequently, whilst we are starting to plan workshops / events with our clients, the discussion incorporates ‘where shall we hold this event?’
At one level there are the usual practical considerations, including cost, ease of access, capacity and facilities at the venue, cost etc! At another level, we consider the opportunity the location and environment provides to enhance the event itself. A few examples in the past couple of years illustrate the point

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• A Programme Manager needed a project group, composed of very technically competent specialists to understand the interrelationship between their disciplines and how the various parts of the project formed the whole mosaic. In this case a countryside location, remote, but accessible and modest, was chosen for their monthly two day project review workshops. The two days together in a remote location enabled the team to leave behind the shackles of the day-to-day workplace. It enabled collaborative working so that the specialists were able to deliver coherent and highly effective solutions.

• A team needed to develop their Customer Relationship Management capability so we held their workshop at a conference venue that shares space with an up-market repair centre for prestigious cars. The venue provided a great opportunity for participants to see first-hand how the repair centre went about its work – and particularly to see the attention to detail that really makes a difference and generates referrals and repeat business.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

• We worked with the Energy Strategy UK team to explore the future of transport energy. The workshop was held at a Transport Museum in Coventry. This venue provided an insight through a tangible record of transport energy in the past. In the workshop design we incorporated activities using these resources to ‘hover above’ today and look back and look forward. A great stimulate to innovative thinking.

Photo competition

• Another client, passionately seeking for innovation in the Long Term Care of people, chose a location that enabled visits to be made to local venues to provoke thinking. For example, the visit to a local horticultural nursery, highlighted the motivation and dedication of the plant specialists, for many of them their work was much more than a means to earn money.
A well-chosen venue can support the overall theme of an event and can become part of the process. Seeking out interesting locations is a challenge but can often add real value to the event.

Nigel Chapman