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Staffing a collaborative project

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A type of collaborative working

There are a number of factors you will need to consider if the staffing of the collaborative project is to be successful.

Resources

The establishment of a collaborative project is likely to take time. Those involved may have less time for their other work. It will be important to ensure that staffing resources are adequate to manage the change and to set up the project.

Change management

We do not always like change. In the voluntary sector, staff, trustees and volunteers may have made substantial investment in 'what is' and may not be amenable to 'what may be possible' within a collaborative project. The key skills in change management are communication and consultation. It will help greatly to listen to people's concerns, learn from them, and make changes if needed. Genuine communication and consultation will help minimise some of the anxiety and conflict that can arise when a collaborative project is being developed and implemented.

Setting terms and conditions

Terms and conditions of employment (pay, hours of work, annual leave, notice periods and so on) for a joint employee or employees should be agreed between the partners.

The partners may agree that the terms and conditions of the partner who will employ the employee(s) are adopted. Alternatively, terms and conditions may be developed that are specific to the joint worker or workers. However, it is worth noting that this will require additional management time to agree each new term.

This latter approach may be most appropriate where salaries and other terms vary considerably between the partner organisations. If the salaries of the employing partner are particularly low or high relative to the other partners, for example, salaries might be set with reference to the mid point of salary rates for similar jobs in all the partner organisations.

There may also be specific provisions in the employment contracts of shared workers that are different from the terms of other workers of the employing partner. For example, the nature of the work may require the joint employee(s) to work from home and/or to have a mobile phone.

The partners will doubtless also be constrained by the funding that they have available. As well as setting an appropriate salary, there will be other costs such as training, pension contributions, paid annual leave, sick pay and maternity/paternity/adoption pay.

Physical location and equipment of a shared employee or employees

If the employee or employees are based at the offices of one of the partner organisations, then it will be especially important to communicate clearly that the employees are a shared resource, to fulfil the requirements of the partnership project.

There will also be a need to clarify who will be responsible for providing the employee's equipment, such as a desk, phone etc, especially when they work from more than one office. In many circumstances, it will make sense for the equipment to be provided by the partner organisation in whose office the employee is primarily based. With this approach, the health and safety responsibilities for both the equipment and premises are with one organisation. However, there will be a need to consider the cost of the equipment and how this should be shared between the partner organisations.

Management style

Be aware that different organisations have different management styles, for example in respect of frequency of supervision, responsiveness to ideas from staff, employee consultation and involvement in decision making and approaches to personal/professional development.

It is especially important to clarify issues of management style, so that joint/shared workers receive consistent messages and expectations.

Organisational rules and procedures

You should clarify what rules any joint employee must adhere to. It is most common that the employee will follow the rules and procedures of the employing partner. However, there may be areas which are less clear. For example, if one member of a partnership allows internet access during lunchtime and the other does not, the employee needs to know the rules that apply to him or her, so that he/she does not inadvertently breach them.

Disciplinary and grievance procedures in particular should be explained to the employee. Should problems arise, the partners should consider carefully how they will deal with them. It may make sense that any disciplinary action is taken jointly by the parties. Alternatively, the employing partner may in some circumstances have the final say, because if dismissal results, then the employing organisation is the one which will be ultimately accountable for that dismissal in law. It is the employing organisation that will need to deal with any employment tribunal claim, should a claim subsequently arise.

Awareness of cultural differences

The way in which one organisation may work will not necessarily be the way in which another organisation will work. There may be differences, for example, in the ways in which decisions are taken, the dress code, and the ways in which staff relate to users and volunteers. Differences may include issues of hierarchy, formality, value systems and communication style. A large organisation may sometimes need to make 'one size fits all' decisions, whereas a smaller organisation, with a local hands-on approach, may be able to operate more quickly and flexibly. The differences in approach may bring about tensions.

It will be important to identify and address any differences in culture before they are a cause of conflict. Real or perceived differences can be a significant barrier if not addressed early on in an open and transparent manner. In particular, if one of the partner organisations in the collaborative project is larger than the other, there may be fears about 'takeover.'

Balance of power in the staffing structure

If the partner organisations involved are significantly different in size, it may be hard to avoid the feeling that the larger organisation has the power. In structuring staffing and in considering management and supervision arrangements, it will be important to consider how to ensure that power is balanced between the parties.

Common understanding

All parties should have a clear understanding of how the employees allocated to the collaborative project will work. It can be very stressful to have more than one boss, with each giving a different interpretation of what should be done and how!

Management responsibilities of a shared employee

A shared employee working across two or more partner organisations may also have some responsibility to co-ordinate employees across the partner organisations. For example, a project manager appointed as a shared employee of four organisations may need to co-ordinate the work of specific project workers in the four organisations. These project workers may also have a manager in their own organisation, as well as having other projects to run.

In such cases, the best approach is to clarify early on in the project how the arrangement will work, and to review it regularly. All parties - the project workers, their managers, and the shared project manager - need to appreciate the complexities of the situation and the variety of work that each may be involved in. Three-way supervision/review meetings with each project worker, their manager, and the shared project manager, will help to increase mutual understanding and reduce miscommunication, as well as setting consistent standards of work to the project worker.

Accountability

Consider carefully who is ultimately accountable for the delivery of the project. Where there are several partners, several project staff and more than one Trustee Board, accountability can become blurred - the project can either be everyone's responsibility or no-one's! In either of these scenarios, it is possible that the project will not deliver what is intended.

You should consider whether or not there should be an overall project manager and if so, to whom this post should report. Make sure that the project manager knows exactly for what he/she is accountable, and to whom.

Shared vision

Having a clear and commonly understood vision gives parties the opportunity to "revisit" it if things go off track.

The shared vision may help in situations such as:

  • where self-interest in your own organisation may adversely affect the shared aims of the partnership
  • where the employee feels they are experiencing a conflict of loyalties
  • where one organisation feels they are not getting a fair share of the employee's attention.

Clear leadership

Clear leadership is important in maintaining and explaining the shared vision; dealing with unanticipated problems; and finding solutions to staffing issues. Be clear about who is driving the partnership project in each of the partner organisations. For example, you might consider setting up a sub-group of your Board of Trustees to focus on the partnership and to report back to the main Board.

Managing reductions in staffing

Setting up a collaborative project may often be as a result of new sources of funding, or to seek new sources of funding. It may be a new activity, rather than a decrease in existing activity. Sometimes, however, there may be some rationalisation as a result of collaborative working. Two or more organisations may wish to share resources, in order to be more cost-effective.

Where this is the case, reductions in staffing may result, which may involve making redundancies. Make sure you consult about possible staffing reductions at the earliest possible opportunity. The legal and procedural position in respect of redundancies is complex. Make sure you are familiar with it by checking Acas guidance or by taking advice on your specific situation.

Staff turnover

Think about how you will cope with turnover among the key individuals in the participating organisations - make sure collaborative arrangements are robust and do not just rely on individuals.

If individuals are employed on short-term contracts to undertake tasks for a group of organisations rather than for a single employer, this may carry a higher risk of difficulties in retention.

Use of formal written agreements

Using formal written agreements for collaborative projects can help ensure continuity and stability, even where there is staff or trustee turnover.

Formal written agreements can help because:

  • They are a reference point if things go wrong
  • The very act of writing the agreements helps to formulate thoughts and ideas
  • Putting faith in high levels of mutual trust can lead to misunderstandings
  • Key individuals may not continue to be involved - so it is important to have the agreement in writing.

Ongoing review

The largest amount of work in setting up a joint project will be at the early stages. However, don't forget to review progress and achievements on an ongoing basis, so that you can celebrate success and learn for the future.

Exit strategy

If the collaborative project is funded for a limited period, e.g. three years, then you will need to consider what will happen to the staff you have employed at the end of the period. If their employment is for two years or more, they will be entitled to statutory redundancy pay and you should make all efforts to redeploy them. It would be prudent to develop and consult on a redundancy policy prior to the event, so that everyone knows how the matter will be handled, and so that it is seen as fair.

Checklist

The checklist below is intended to help you consider the key issues when staffing a collaborative project.

  • Have you considered the staffing resources required to set the project up and manage the change? Have you dealt with any staff anxieties about the new project?
  • Is there a clear and shared vision as to what the project is to achieve? Is there clear leadership of the project at trustee level?
  • Who will line manage staff employed in a collaborative project?
  • Who will be the legal employer?
  • What employment terms and conditions will apply?
  • Where will you locate your project worker(s)? What equipment may they need and which partner will supply it?
  • Have you clarified any differences in management style or organisational culture between the partner organisations so that messages to and expectations of project workers are clear?
  • What differences are there in organisational rules and procedures (e.g. discipline and grievance)? How will this impact on the project workers?
  • In the staffing structures you will set up, how will you ensure that there is an appropriate balance of power between the partner organisations?
  • Do some project staff report both to their manager in their own organisation and to the manager of the collaborative project? What systems (e.g. three-way supervision) could you put in place? How will you ensure that messages are consistent?
  • Who is accountable for the delivery of the project? Make sure this is clear - if everyone is accountable it could end up as no-one being accountable!
  • Have you thought about whether your project may result in efficiency savings and therefore potential redundancies?
  • And how about possible redundancies at the end of the project funding?
  • If in a redundancy situation, are you familiar with the legal requirements or have you sought advice?
  • Have you considered using a formal written agreement to help ensure continuity and stability, even where there is turnover of staff or trustees?
  • Do you have systems in place to review progress and achievements on an ongoing basis?
Page last edited Mar 15, 2016

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