Many partners spend a lot of time and energy in reaching some form of Partnering Agreement, only to see it get little traction and fail to deliver over time. The initial energy and enthusiasm at the start of a partnering process that leads to some form of partnering agreement can soon dissipate and lead to disappointment.
So how do we make sure what the partners want will actually take place? How can we guarantee the partnering will deliver the outcomes and impacts we are seeking? And most importantly what can we do to get the traction needed to get results?
In trying to answer these questions lets look at what happens in practice when a group of potential partners comes together and starts exploring a partnering opportunity.
Often the first step is to form a small working group with representatives from each organisation. Early discussions centre on information sharing, gaining an understanding of each organisation and building the relationship base that will underpin any future partnering efforts.
As discussions proceed and before any agreement is signed, senior people from each partner organisation may be included to ensure the partnering initiative being designed will have the necessary high-level leadership support and commitment it needs.
Spending enough time in this early creating stage is critical to develop the necessary foundations from which to build the partnering initiative. However, what we often find is that by the time a Partnering Agreement is signed there may be only a handful of people within each of the partners who have had any involvement in the partnering discussions, let alone know anything about what has been agreed and how it will impact them on a day-to-day basis.
But we know from experience that for partnering to work in practice many more people from each partner organisation will need to be involved at different times. Resources will need to be drawn from various areas to deliver specific actions and people from each partner will need to interact in many different settings throughout the life of the partnering.
So to get traction of the Partnering Agreement we need to go beyond just those people involved in the creating stage and seek to gain broader engagement, commitment and ownership of the partnering initiative across each partner organisation. We need to consider not only what happens between the partners but what happens back within each partner organisation as well.
We need to move from partnering between a few ‘individuals’ to partnering between ‘organisations’, if we are to create a sustainable partnering environment and get the results we want.
This raises a number of questions for partner representatives about how they engage back within their organisation and bring everyone along on the journey, such as:
- What does partnering mean to our organisation?
- What skills do we have to undertake partnering work?
- How will we raise awareness of the Partnering Agreement?
- How do we ensure that we partner consistently?
- Have we the capacity to deliver on the partnering?
- How will we communicate internally and externally to our stakeholders?
- How will we monitor and evaluate our role in the partnering?
- How do we translate the partnering imperatives if we engage contractors?
- What tools and systems do we need to have in place?
- What business processes do we have in place to support our partnering?
This list is by no means exclusive but it clearly demonstrates that there is a lot that partners need to consider in partnering effectively with other organisations. A further question for partners to consider is should we wait until after we sign an agreement or can we prepare our organisation for partnering before we enter into any agreements.
The answer to this question is most definitely YES. There is a lot that organisations can do to prepare themselves before engaging in partnering and ensure they maximise impact and outcomes from this approach. The Partnering Initiative in the UK believe organisations should prepare themselves to be effective partners and they have developed a Fit for Partnering Framework to assist in building partnering capability. TPI focuses on four key areas to develop, namely:
- Leadership and Strategy
- Systems and Processes
- Skills and Support, and
- Partnering Culture
At DIXON Partnering Solutions we have developed our own Stronger Partners™ Program where we assist organisations to build their capability around partnering and in our White Paper, titled Adapt and Prosper: Unlocking the Potential of Cross Sector Partnering we propose six key attributes that we believe need to be in place if organisations are to partner effectively and efficiently. These attributes are:
- New Thinking
- Knowledge of Cross Sector Partnering
- New Tools and Systems
- New Skills, and
- Organisational Buy In
So if you want to fast track you’re partnering and ensure you get maximum impact from this approach you need to look at what you can do to prepare yourself before you engage and commit to specific initiatives.