With over 20 years’ experience in the not-for-profit and government sectors, Renée Madsen has been instrumental in helping businesses and organisations achieve their goals through collaboration with others, measuring success, and building grant-writing skills. As Principal Consultant at Create and Evaluate, and a regular presenter at various regional grant writing workshops, Renée has extensive knowledge of the industries, the people and the culture in North Queensland. We sat down with Renée who shares how collaboration is the key to growing and sustaining the innovation, leadership and creativity in our North Queensland region.
1. You often mention the large role collaboration plays in creating positive change within industries and business alike. Why is this so important?
One of my favourite sayings is ‘All of us are smarter than any of us.’ By working together, by pooling our knowledge and resources, we come up with better ideas, better solutions and better results than we could by working in isolation. This applies to all industries and fields of work. Collaboration takes time and resources, but the benefits are worth it!
2. You are a principal consultant at Create and Evaluate, a consultancy that helps businesses and organisations achieve their goals through facilitation and common-sense solutions. What are some of the strategies you often implement to help teams and organisations successfully work together to achieve their goals?
I often facilitate meetings where people from diverse organisations or backgrounds come together to share information, give feedback or make decisions, like community consultation forums and steering committee meetings. I also do a lot of strategic planning sessions with Boards of Directors and Management Committees, which are often made up of quite diverse individuals who need to work together to set goals and direction for their organisation. I facilitate team reconnection sessions to help staff members build their teamwork and team culture, so that they are all on the same page and working towards common goals.
The other work I do involves helping organisations to measure the impact of their work – what is the difference their work has made to their target audience or community? Are they achieving their goals? I help the organisation to define what success looks like, how they’re going to measure that success, and what information to collect so they have evidence of their impact. This is helpful for businesses who want to build a collection of testimonials and positive feedback from clients, or government-funded organisations who need to clearly demonstrate their achievements and the difference they’ve made.
3. What is the most common barrier you see businesses and organisations face?
Reluctance to collaborate. And that’s understandable – democracy can get messy! I’ve had clients who were afraid to invite certain people to meetings because it would ‘open up a can of worms’, even though the contribution from those people would have been valuable to the end goal. I’ve had team leaders tell me that their staff members should not be allowed to say anything negative in their upcoming team building session, because it will turn into an endless complaint’s session. I’ve seen leaders of major projects refuse to consult with important partners because it would take too long and hold up the project – only to have those same partners cause delays further down the track, because they weren’t consulted earlier and now they’re not happy.
This is where having an independent facilitator can make an enormous difference. I work with my client beforehand to understand exactly what the purpose of their meeting or collaboration is, and what they want to achieve by the end. Then I design a structured process for the meeting, and use specialist facilitator skills during the discussion, which means that none of those fears I mentioned earlier will happen. A good facilitator will support the meeting to achieve its purpose, while helping the group to navigate tricky spots and ensuring that everyone in the room has a voice.
4. What is the most challenging aspect of consulting with large groups of different people/teams?
Making a big group feel like a small group. As a facilitator, my goal is to equalise participation and give everyone who wants to contribute the opportunity to do so. Not every large group is the same, so I need to do some thorough planning beforehand, but also be prepared to go with the flow and have a backup plan if things go differently to what I expect!
When helping organisations to measure their impact, if there’s a large number of different parties involved, it can be hard to separate out one individual party’s contribution from the rest – often because there’s been a lot of collaboration, ironically! There are ways around this, and we can still come up with some good information about what difference an organisation is making in their target community.
5. You are a regular presenter at various grant writing workshops around the region. Can you share with us some of your top tips to writing a successful grant application?
My top tips would be:
1. Think about what your business or organisation really needs, and what your priorities are, then look for grants that match that need. There are hundreds of grants out there, so this kind of thinking beforehand will save you time when searching for grants and make the application a lot easier to write.
2. In your application, be as specific as possible about what you want to spend the money on. Separate out different items and expenses as much as possible. This will help the person assessing your application to clearly see what you want to do with the funding, which will help boost your application to the top of the pile.
3. Read the grant guidelines! Yes, they can be long-winded and confusing, but all the details you need for a successful application are there, such as whether you are eligible, and keywords to use in your application.
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