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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Critical factors for successful collaboration

There are a number of critical factors for successful collaboration, which are set out below. Leadership is a key element, with other factors flowing from that.

A. Leadership – creating a culture of collaboration & driving results

Leadership is critical in two ways. Firstly in a general sense, leadership across the State Service is crucial to creating a professional culture that supports, models, understands and aspires to whole-of-government solutions.[1]  This requires leadership at all levels, including Heads of Agency, Deputy Secretaries, Directors, and Managers, who should champion collaborative projects, encourage interaction across agency boundaries and consistently model critical behaviours such as collegiality. Leaders should ensure that their staff understand the shared benefits that can be attained from working collaboratively and that their role on inter-departmental committees or working groups is not to defend territory, but seek solutions in the state’s interests.[2]  Leaders should also reward and recognise participation in collaborative projects.

The following have been described as key features of a culture that supports collaboration;

  • flexible, persistent, adaptable and open to innovation and creativity;
  • team focused with the ability to think and act across agency boundaries, tolerate mistakes and manage risks;
  • capacity to build strategic alliances and negotiate to achieve joint outcomes;
  • expression of diverse views is encouraged and different cultures and their strengths are appreciated;
  • capacity to balance the tension between short and long term goals.[3]
“Horizontal management demands a reinvented form of leadership—a leadership that supports the evolution of culture as much as a leadership that delivers projects on time and on budget”.[4]

Secondly, leadership is also critical to the success of specific collaborative projects.[5] Effective teams must have clear leadership to drive outcomes and achieve results. Leadership can sit with one person, or it can be shared, shifting from person to person depending on circumstances and personal strengths. Good leaders need to have self-awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.[6] They also need to have a clear sense of purpose, delineate roles and responsibilities and use interpersonal skills to communicate effectively and negotiate outcomes based on competing interests.

Different leadership styles are necessary at different times – ranging from a coercive style to a coaching style. The best leaders don’t just use one style - they are skilled at several and have the flexibility to switch between styles as circumstances dictate.[7] A useful summary of six leadership styles is included in Annex 2.

The role of central agencies

It is also appropriate in this section, to comment on the role of central agencies in collaborative projects. Officers within DPAC and the Department of Treasury and Finance play a critical role in promoting effective whole-of-government outcomes.

Sometimes it is appropriate for DPAC or Treasury to lead a project in the early stages, with lead agency responsibility transferred to another agency once the project is established. This does not however mean that DPAC or Treasury needs to lead, or be involved in, every collaborative project – all agencies have the capacity to lead these projects. Appropriate leadership should be assessed on a case by case basis.

The Policy Division of DPAC is able to bring independence to policy analysis and development and act as a broker to facilitate decision making. The division can provide advice on whole-of-government priorities, intergovernmental processes and priorities; explain the machinery of government and Cabinet processes and facilitate best practice collaboration, as outlined in this paper.

Treasury is able to provide financial and regulatory advice relating to collaborative projects, and advice on budget processes and available structures.

B. Trust

Trust is a pre-condition for successful collaboration. It is also essential to build working relationships and effective teams.[8] Trust is a complex concept which means different things to different people, but in a co-worker sense it has been described as ‘…confidence that one’s colleagues are competent and will act in a fair and reliable manner… and will not take advantage of them by withholding information.’[9] Team members who trust one another can be open, exposed to new ideas, and develop a sense of shared responsibility for an outcome. Building credibility, investing in relationships, openness and continual dialogue promote trust.[10]

While the existence of trusting relationships in a collaborative situation is ideal, the common starting point can be suspicion rather than trust.[11] In these circumstances, adopting the approach outlined in the diagram at Annex 3 might assist in building trust. It involves forming expectations about the future of collaboration and being willing to take a risk to collaborate. Trust can gradually be built through starting with some modest but realistic aims that are likely to be successfully realised. This reinforces trusting attitudes and provides a basis for more ambitious collaboration. [12]

C.  Shared aims / benefits and evaluation of progress

To improve the chances of a successful outcome arising from a collaborative arrangement it is necessary to be clear about the aims and benefits of joint work and set realistic expectations. There are often difficulties associated with agreeing to shared objectives due to the variety of organisational and individual agendas that are present in collaborative situations. Tensions often arise because some organisations are very interested in influencing and controlling the joint agenda and some are reluctant to commit resources to it. Multiple and sometimes even conflicting aims can prevent agreement and block progress.[13]

One way to ensure that participants are fully briefed on the purpose behind a collaborative arrangement is to engage them in the development of terms of reference. This will ensure that there is agreement on the aims and goals for the group early on in its establishment and provide a useful point of reference for the group should it start to deviate from the agreed course.

Depending on the size of the project the terms of reference could include accountability arrangements (see below), milestones and performance indicators, which should be monitored to evaluate the success of the collaboration. Where the project is large and complex, in addition to the terms of reference it may be useful to develop a formal project plan which clearly articulates the scope of the project, the project phases, milestones, responsibility and performance indicators.[14]

D. Membership

A critical component to a successful collaborative arrangement is identifying and engaging the right people at an appropriate level to participate in discussion and decision making processes. Members should also possess an understanding of the subject matter and carry the authority to make decisions on behalf of the agency they represent. It is important that members understand their role as departmental representatives and ensure that the view they present is the view of the agency they represent and that they have consulted on the issues being addressed by the group. As a key part of their role, members should also provide feedback on progress of the project to relevant staff within their agency.

Often collaborative structures are talked about as though stability of membership can be taken for granted. In practice however this is not the case. New members may join and others may leave which can cause a breakdown in communication, trust and an understanding of the issues and progress already made by the group. The relationships between individual participants when collaborating are often fundamental to achieving outcomes. This makes collaboration highly sensitive to membership changes.[15]

As a general principle, occasional membership should not be accepted. It is preferable to have the membership clearly stated from the outset, whether this is contained in the terms of reference or other documentation. When establishing membership thought could also be given to allowing proxy or delegated membership in the event that the designated member is unable to attend a meeting.

To increase the success of a collaborative arrangement is it useful to ensure that members of the group (either individually or collectively) possess the following capabilities: relationship management; project or contract management; policy development and legislative experience; negotiation and mediation skills; change and conflict management; communication and marketing; and records management. Training and exposure to a broad range of government work is also beneficial.

E. Accountability and budget structures

Early consideration of budget and accountability arrangements is essential to proper planning, resourcing and management of collaborative projects.

The alignment of decision making, accountability and performance management within traditional agency structures can inhibit the availability of shared rewards, outcomes and responsibilities, but there are ways of achieving this within existing budget structures.

Currently, within the Tasmanian Government, a lead agency model is most commonly adopted, where one portfolio Minister and agency is given responsibility for coordinating a whole-of-government project, even where it might be a cross agency initiative. Budget funds are allocated to that agency. Usually the project will be governed by a structure such as an inter-departmental or steering committee.

A variation of the lead agency model can include funding being appropriated to a number of agencies, with a nominated lead agency being responsible for coordination and reporting on performance.

Other possible models include the following[16]:

  • a single or common outcome where agencies are jointly funded to deliver a specific outcome. Funding is targeted solely at the initiative, and cannot be used to fund other outcomes within participating agencies. Savings could be moved across portfolios, if necessary.  Agencies develop separate outputs, but budget papers and annual reports identify linkages with the common outcome;
  • a purchaser–provider arrangement where a lead agency purchases services from one or more agencies but remains accountable for the outcome towards which the activity contributes;
  • a multi-agency package under which agencies can be appropriated with funds to achieve a common policy outcome, with no formal requirement for continuing coordination. Typically, this could relate to measures that are simply extensions of existing programs or initiatives.

Each of these models offers advantages and disadvantages.  A single outcome approach ensures funding and performance information is easy to identify in budget documentation.  However, it also means that accountability is diffuse, agencies have reduced flexibility to move funds to meet demand and rules need to be developed to govern treatment of savings.

Purchaser–provider arrangements afford clear accountability, which generally resides with a single Minister.  However, accountability of the purchasing agency depends on the actions of other agencies.  Lead agency and multi-agency arrangements provide maximum funding flexibility for agencies and clear accountability for elements of the package.  However, accountability for delivery of the package as a whole is unclear and if a lead agency is not given leverage to determine reporting arrangements, funding and performance information is can be difficult to identify.

The Department of Treasury and Finance should be consulted at an early stage in the development of collaborative initiatives to ensure that the flexibility that there is in the existing budget process is maximised and used to facilitate shared responsibility.

F. Information sharing and communication

As collaborative approaches become more common in the way agencies conduct their business, information sharing plays a critical role in generating better decision making and program delivery.[17]  Joint agency activities call on different players to come together for different projects. The capacity and willingness to share information across systems is required by all agencies to improve productivity and ease of data transfer and exchanges.[18]

Managing information well is important in collaborative working. Relevant skills range from document management through to strategic information management. If data sharing is occurring across agencies, data collection, filing and recovery need to be intuitive and easily discoverable.[19]

The establishment and maintenance of clear lines of communication are vital in whole-of-government collaboration. When participating in the formal collaborative structures such as IDCs, clear terms of reference, agreement to a regular meeting schedule and the circulation and agreement to an agenda which outlines the objectives for the meeting can help to keep members focused on the outcomes and drive decision making. Supporting this, formal minutes and action lists allocating responsibility that are prepared and circulated in quick succession after the meeting helps keep the momentum and reminds members of their responsibilities. A dedicated secretariat position is a key element in ensuring that these functions are performed.

The tools used most frequently at present to aid collaborative working are email, direct phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Email is the most commonly utilised tool however there are limitations arising from using email. A continuing exponential rise in email traffic is a risk in collaborative working. Email can be unwieldy, open to misinterpretation and weigh people down with unnecessary volumes of information. Email is good for brief information and updates but used extensively can limit collaboration to a particular level or individual point of contact. Face-to-face meetings and direct phone calls are more effective collaborative tools. [20]


[1] The importance of a developing a culture that supports collaboration is highlighted both in Australia and overseas: eg Australian Public Service Commission 2004, Connecting Government, Chapter 3; Canadian Public Policy Forum, 2008, Collaborative Governance and Changing Federal Roles – Research Paper, p.16; Emsile, C, and Gordon, M, 2008, Collaborative working across Government: Final Report May 2008 (UK).

[2] Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government, preface.

[3] Briggs (2005) cited in Victorian State Services Authority 2007, Victorian Approaches to Joined Up Government, p.29 and Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government: Good Practice Guide 3 “Creating a culture for success”.

[4] Hopkins, M, Couture, C and Moore, E, 2001, “Moving from the Heroic to the Everyday: Lessons learned from Leading Horizontal Projects”, Canadian Centre for Management Development, Roundtable on the Management of Horizontal objectives, p.5 cited in Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government, p.48

[5] Institute of Public Administration Australia, NSW State Conference 15 May 2003, Leadership and Integrated Governance: A Reader.

[6] Goleman, D, 2000 “Leadership that gets results”, Harvard Business Review.p.1.

[7] ibid.

[8] See Lencioni, P, 2005, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Field Guide for Leaders, Managers and Facilitators.

[9] Ferres, N, Connelle, J, and Travagoline, A, 2004 ‘Co-worker trust as a social catalyst for constructive employee attitudes’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, p.610.

[10] Institute of Public Administration Australia, NSW State Conference 15 May 2003, Leadership and Integrated Governance: A Reader p.19.

[11] Huxham, C and Vangen, S “Doing things collaboratively: Realising the Advantage or Succumbing to Inertia?” in O’Flynn J and Wanna J (Eds), 2008, Collaborative Governance: A new era of public policy in Australia, p 34.

[12] ibid, p 35.

[13] ibid, p 31.

[14] The Tasmanian Government’s Project Management Guidelines and templates are available on the Office of e-government website: http://www.egovernment.tas.gov.au/project_management.

[15] Huxham, C and Vangen, S “Doing things collaboratively: Realising the Advantage or Succumbing to Inertia?” in O’Flynn J and Wanna J (Eds), 2008, Collaborative Governance: A new era of public policy in Australia, p 37-38.

[16] Australian Public Service Commission, 2004, Connecting Government, p.83. See also New South Wales Premier’s Department, Guidelines for Collaboration and Integrated Services, C1999-31, March 1999, Checklist Seven.

[17] ibid, p60.

[18] ibid, p61.

[19] ibid, p53.

[20] Emsile, C and Gordon, M, 2008, Collaborative working across Government: Final Report May 2008, <http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/cabinetoffice/corp/assets/publications/trans_gov/collab_working_across_gov080815.pdf >, p 11.

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