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An alternative approach to consortium building for EU research and innovation projects

16th March 2022 at 10:04 am

The vast majority of Horizon 2020 and Horizon EU projects have been implemented by consortia consisting of 5 to 15 institutions. Several factors determine the exact size of a consortium, including the type of funding instrument and the requirements of a call topic. The larger the consortium, the more challenging it is for the project coordinator to manage the proceeding efficiently, oversee the progress of work easily, and ensure a successful collaboration.

With partners from different countries, diverse backgrounds, and distinct research areas, team building represents an essential task and challenge best tackled during the proposal preparation before a project even starts. With experience taken from our involvement in almost one hundred EU-funded projects, we are confident in stating that the better a team communicates and collaborates, the more successful the project will be, even though there are many other factors as to why a project succeeds or not.

Team building in practice

We at accelopment are a multi-disciplinary, multi-national, and multi-skilled team of 19 staff (and currently hiring) representing a total of 26 nationalities and passports and speaking 12 mother tongues. Our team is indeed a truly European “consortium”, and we sometimes face similar challenges to those in our project consortia. Like project meetings where – next to scientific discussions – socialising and personal interactions play a vital role for mutual understanding and better communication, we organise team building events twice a year. Recently, we enjoyed a llama trekking, which also included a donkey, where we did not only make new friends but had to come to terms with all sorts of different characters and personalities – just like in an EU project consortium.

Jeanette with llama Chino

Jeanette, our CEO and founder of the company, was looking after the fluffy-eared Chino who turns everybody’s head with his charisma and charm. Chino would let himself get distracted by tasty-looking leaves on surrounding trees. It was Jeanette who had to act as his tamer and needed to constantly convince him to stay on track. Occasionally, the stubborn llama refused to budge, and it took all of Jeanette’s power of persuasion to make him move in the right direction again. Just like EU project coordinators can get distracted by the details, a subtle reminder of where the team is heading helped Chino keep up with the rest of the herd.

Julia and Jacqueline with their llamas

One would imagine that the herd’s alpha, Catania, always pushes her mates to do more and go further. But, just as she would from a forward-looking risk manager, Jacqueline had to learn that Bianca only leads the way when necessary and then makes decisions that are followed by all members of the herd. Catania grants her herd/team members maximum freedom and liberty and strives for smart leadership!

Taitao, another charismatic team member, and Julia with many years of experience in dealing with EU project partners found a mutual understanding at first sight. He was easy to get on with and a dedicated follower of Bianca. Analysing their communication, Jacqueline and Julia found quite a few similarities between their interaction and that of a coordinator and a work package leader where the ultimate decision lies with the coordinator. Taitao knew when to ask for guidance and did his best to toe the party line, just like the work package leader in our fictional project.

Michel with llama Cusco

With Cusco, Michel was tasked with leading a deaf llama more in need of physical than vocal instructions. Despite his disability, Cusco was the one that kept group morale high with his constant singing, motivating his team/herd mates to stay close – an important contribution both at llama trekking and proposal writing. Just like a partner who might not be deep into the science part of a deliverable, Cusco helped keep our spirits high as we were rambling through the mud in drenched clothing. While we are by no means suggesting that any partner starts singing during the next web conference, there are always those that find a way of keeping morale high.

Joanna with llama Nubia

Monti, the herd’s gentle giant, was well cared for with Joanna. As one of our dissemination and communication experts, Joanna convincingly showed Monti the next steps she envisioned for him – using of course adequate language, including signs and sounds meaningful to him and his team/herd colleagues. He was so easy to walk with, had a playful attitude, and always delivered what was asked of him without causing delays. Valuing each other’s contribution to the experience, the two had an enjoyable journey from the start until arriving at the final envisaged destination. Monti, a true collaborator, would be a welcome member of any team!

Denise with donkey Luna

From Luna, the stubborn donkey and sweet dreamer, Denise, our specialist in all things marketing and communications, learned that “exotic” members can enrichen a team. While guiding her through the canton of Berne’s hills, she frequently had to communicate with Luna and, slowly but surely, managed to integrate her well, allowing her to become part of the team. With her strong will, Luna was able to make others follow her while also listening to what was requested from her. When building a project consortium, one should never shy away from bringing in new blood and fresh ideas. And just like our Luna also displayed, strong wills and clear opinions are often needed, but at the same time, one should never stop listening to others!

Sara with llama Sirius

While we cannot confirm or deny whether it was an affinity to the Harry Books that led him to his decision, it was Sara who guided Sirius through forests and along the narrow paths. Like an overeager scientist wanting to write page after page on their discovery, Sirius was a (pun intended) serious show-off. There was nothing more important to him than displaying what he is capable of in front of others. But Sara, who was acting as the coordinator in this one-person-one-llama team, managed to calm him down and have him do what was asked of him perfectly. Just like the overeager scientists, a helping hand had Sirius realise that perfecting what is asked of him is how you impress others!

Liam with llama Bianca

Bianca, the senior of the herd and mother to many of those following, enjoyed leading the line and knew the route by heart. With her no-nonsense attitude, her handler (follower would be a more apt description) Liam barely had to ask the guide which corner to turn. Just like an experienced EU project manager, Bianca knew the most effective way of getting the team all the way to the finish line, basing her decisions on both, her own and the combined experience in proposal writing and project management within her herd/team. And while she was at it, Bianca knew exactly where the best-tasting leaves in arms reach were.

Marco with llama Patagonia

EU project implementation is a challenge with individual consortium members that are of different personalities and characters. To avoid or mediate tensions in the group, calm personalities are invaluable. Marco was lucky to meet Patagonia, a model of balance, with a pleasant nature and a lot of patience – even in tricky and unexpected situations. While Marco`s colleagues were all happy with their fun mates, they envied Marco for Patagonia who would make an ideal partner in hectic proposal writing and project management times!

Patrick with llama Viktor

Nothing upsets Viktor and he likes to travel at a leisurely pace, each step a deliberate decision. Although calmness and prudence are also much needed in hectic situations, there can be a risk of losing track in fast-moving projects. Patrick tried to make Viktor move faster occasionally so as not to lose touch with the group. This did not prevent Viktor from ensuring that Nubia, the youngster, did not become the last one in line. What a great gesture that project partners could take as an example – just get in line!

Nubia, the nestling with no idea where she wanted to go without guidance from her elders, was not pressed for time and mostly came in last. This did not prevent her from feeling part of the group, as her companions would patiently wait for her to catch up. Just like a young and inexperienced researcher in a project consortium, Nubia was made to feel welcome and was kept up to speed by her more experienced mates.

Andreia with llama Eloy

A secret to everybody – Eloy, a high performer, modest, direct, and honest. He represented the ideal sparring partner for project manager Andreia and had the potential for a future leader, following in the footsteps of Bianca or even Catania. Before doing so, Eloy still has to learn a lot and Andreia was happy to guide him steadily through the foresty hills. His cautious and well thought through approach to unknown territory was well balanced by Andreia with her hands-on, optimistic mindset, adding a learning curve to Eloy’s trip. We are convinced that Eloy will make his way, just like any young, ambitious, and talented researcher.

Geraldine with llama Giorgio

Giorgio is a social being and always in a good mood. Géraldine enjoyed Giorgio`s company before, during, and after the walk through the woods, getting to know his work self and his private self. Life or rather project life could be so much easier, and meetings more enjoyable and even more fun with open-minded partners like Giorgio. Together, they formed a strong partnership based on mutual trust and understanding, a prerequisite for future walks. As experienced by Giorgio and Géraldine, collaboration is the name of the game in joint undertakings!

Patrik with his llama Anchelina

An important skill of any project partner is to be attentive – including during lengthy or at times boring web calls or meetings and tedious sections of the path. Anchelina, being an alert and vigilant character, always kept Patrik up to speed and made sure he did not miss any of the beautiful landscapes during our strenuous walk. Thanks to their harmonious relationship and reciprocal understanding, and counting on the individual strengths of their partner, Patrik and Anchelina were still full of energy and enthusiasm at the end of the journey. Both would be ready for the next joint project and are looking forward to future encounters and collaboration.

In summary, the mix of characters and personalities as well as complementary expertise and skills makes the difference – be it in a herd of llamas or in a group of excellent researchers. We enjoy the variety in our projects!

Collaboration with our experienced team at accelopment

We have long-standing experience in actively supporting European consortium building and collaborative EU grant applications. Our enthusiasm has not halted since our foundation during the 7th Framework Programme and with our experience, we can support researchers and companies throughout the application process as well as during the project implementation. Our successful projects are listed on our website. Currently, we are involved in about 25 running projects, most of them Horizon 2020 initiatives, and we have already been able to acquire 5 Horizon EU projects.

For more information about our services, please contact us.

Photo of Denise Diggelmann

Denise Diggelmann
Marketing and Communications Associate