Tetra Tech International Development, in partnership with Ernst & Young (EY), The Economist Group and Nathan Associates, has been implementing the Regional Trade for Development Facility (RT4D), DFAT’s largest trade investment in the Asia-Pacific, through a consortium approach.
Consortiums are difficult implementation mechanisms and there are hardly any guiding documents on how to lead them. However, it is a wonderful mechanism that should be used more often especially given that the wicked global problems ahead of us require creative and collaborative approaches.
Below, are my key insights and learnings based on the last 6 months:
- A consortium is a team of 3-6 reputable organisations drawn together by their collective interest in implementing a program of work based on each organisation’s comparative advantage. It is not a group of organisations working on their own, but one that has a unified purpose.
- Each organisation respects the diverse capabilities available and acknowledges that it is unlikely to achieve the needed program outcomes without the others.
- The consortium must be governed by a governance committee, that comprises of one individual from each organisation, and led by the representative of the lead organisation.
- The success of the collaboration rests with all consortium organisations understanding that a high level of collective accountability is critical. There must be joint ownership of the program outcomes. However, there needs to be a lead organisation within the consortium that is finally accountable to the client.
- Each organisation must recruit/nominate at least one individual to be part of the program implementation team. In this way, the implementation team is a sub-conscious microcosm of the consortium itself.
- The quality of the consortiums governance committee meetings are more important than the regularity of the meetings. Creating the right balance between meeting often to build teamwork and giving space for the consortium culture to naturally evolve is important.
- The individuals in the implementation team, whilst contracted by their respective organsations, must however only have a single line of reporting to the program implementation team leader with no dotted lines of reporting. In this way, the implementation team works in a manner that is ‘best for program’, rather than for each consortium organisation’s agenda.
- It is in the interest of the program implementation team to treat the needs of the client above that of the needs of the consortium given that the client seeks program outcomes as the final marker of success. In other words, there may be times when what is ‘best for program’ may be different from what is ‘best for consortium’. In such instances, the needs of the program are superior. Therefore, it is in the interest of the consortium partners to align with what is best for program to the extent possible.
- The representative of the lead organisation represents the consortium in its discussions with the client and the implementation team. Therefore, they must gain the trust of representatives of all other organsations and have the ability to understand each organisation’s work culture and priorities. The consortium representative is therefore the glue holding the consortium together. Communication must be regular, consistent, and authentic. This individual must strive to be the ‘collaboration champion’ who understands diverse and changing perspectives. They must have the ‘macro-scope’ to see the overall big picture of the various movements of the individual organisational wheels.
- The accountability of the team leader of the project to the consortium must be through the Consortium Representative. While it may be possible for there to be reporting to the consortium committee, communication and decision making will become cumbersome unless there is a singular reporting line.
- There are likely to be several crossovers of work cultures. The program implementation team is creating a work culture that will be different to that of the consortium partners. In order of the program to be effective, it is essential that those from consortium partners working with the implementation team seek to integrate into the team culture being organically created. Some aspects of work behaviours and practices from consortium partners will be adopted while others will not. Creation of a ‘one-team’ approach will be determined by the willingness and ability of differing work cultures to acknowledge, respect and adopt the work-culture of the program implementation team.
- One of the most significant work relationships is that between the program implementation Team Leader and the Consortium Representative. This bridge is where most problems are discussed and solved. A need for forthright and openness in communication cannot be overstated. This critical relationship is part of the relationship trinity of Client Manager, Consortium Representative and Team Leader.
- At the heart of success is relationships, not documents. Documents are supporting tools and essential for guidance. But nothing can replace collaboration.
I’d like to thank Jessica Hall of DFAT, Andrew Ozga of EY, Tanna Price of Nathan Associates, Barrett Bingley of Economist Impact, Peter van Diermen, the outgoing Facility Director of RT4D, team members of RT4D and other colleagues in the consortium organisations for the collaboration that brought about these insights.