Very often I work on my own on an evaluation or project for clients. However now and again, I find that working as part of a team of consultants provides better value for organisations that can have complex needs or a complex evaluation to undertake.
When this happens it is fortunate that I know some very talented consultants and have access to many more in my own network. Keeping up to date with what everyone is doing can take time, but it helps as I know quickly who is and is not available to work on a contract at any given time.
And this leads me onto my first point about working in a team: Network. You have to know a broad range of consultants so that you can put together a talented team that will deliver added value for the client. Yes, sometimes this means meeting up with other consultants (which can be beneficial for all sorts of work and non-work-related reasons), but also keeping up to date with what your network is posting on their blogs, LinkedIn profiles, etc.
The other thing to be aware of when putting an evaluation team together is expertise and skill. Putting a team together that has complimentary skills, expertise and experience is harder than it seems but so very important. Ultimately, it is this mix of individuals that will attract the client (or not!). And you want to put yourself in the strongest position to win the contract.
Winning contracts is not always about being the cheapest (although some NGOs that I’ve worked with have had an unwritten policy of only hiring the cheapest tender – not always with good results), but in having the best proposition that will deliver not only what the client wants but those added extras (either during or after the process) so that the organisation knows that it is getting the best value for money that it can possibly afford.
The team does have to work well together and to get that happening as fast as possible (remember, you may never actually meet some members of the team you’re working with) there needs to be a team leader. This does not always have to be the person that has initiated the evaluation team, but rather the person that has the best skills and experience for doing this. Sometimes if a technical specialist is putting the team together then they may choose to include someone who has strong evaluation management experience rather than another technical specialist.
Everyone in the team has to have a clear role, with defined responsibilities and actions, with accountability to the other team members. We all know how challenging and demanding evaluations can be, so it really matters that the team knows what each person is doing at any one time.
Finally, and most importantly, communicate. Communicate with each other and with the client often. On large complicated evaluations there will be a formal reporting structure for progress reports on a regular basis. However there is nothing stopping you communicating with both the team and the client in between the formal reporting deadlines. This is the single most important thing about working in a team. Everyone needs to know what is going on at any one time.
Not all evaluation teams are a positive experience, that is just the nature of things. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to be able to work with almost anyone.
What has your experience of team working been like? Or maybe you’re working in an NGO and have had to hire teams of evaluators, what has worked for you and what you say are the main things evaluation teams need to get right?