25 Aug Blooming partnerships
Partnering seems to be a thing with IT shops right now. It’s the new magic elixir that will solve all our problems. Just say the word and the music swells. Then we’ll go skipping off hand-in-hand through a sun-drenched field of flowers, completed projects and happy customers. Yes, I was touting partnership just last week in this column, but when I think partnership, I think hard work. Partnership is the right relationship answer only if all involved are willing to invest the required time and energy.
When you’re just putting together a partnership, the work is mostly in two areas. The first is identifying common interests and goals and the second is assessing how abilities and resources complement each other to create something stronger than the individual components. The following seven behaviors help in those two tasks.
Focusing on commonalities, not differences
You can always find roadblocks if you go looking for them. Successful partnerships begin by looking for ways the partners can benefit one another, not by looking for ways they may inhibit each other’s success.
Identifying specific, mutual goals
Successful partnerships share a vested interest in common goals, and those goals need to be specific enough that the partners can assess progress toward them.
Investing in the partnership
Being a partner requires time, attention and other resources. Successful partnerships are built by direct participation of the partnering organizations, not by representatives or surrogates acting on their behalf.
Defining and accepting roles
Efficient partnerships bring together complementary but unique skills and expertise. Thinking about roles and abilities will keep you from stepping on each other’s toes or losing contact all together.
Building awareness, respect and trust
Good partnerships create an understanding of the objectives, constraints and abilities of the individual partners. Any partner is able to speak knowledgably about those attributes for other partners.
Openly assessing partnership value
Good partnership is not free. Good partnerships, especially early on, should encourage open assessment of the value of partnering, considering both the potential benefits and potential costs.
Sharing risk and reward
The essence of partnership is being able to achieve results that would not be possible individually. Successful partnerships prepare for sharing benefits by also sharing the effort and risk required to obtain them.
Once you’ve got the partnership ball rolling, you’ll have a new set of challenges as the partnership encounters new environments and situations. These behaviors don’t replace the building-partnership behaviors, but they will need a greater share of your attention as the partnership adapts and grows. The partnership maintenance behaviors are:
Collaborating on decisions
Partners participate in joint examination of assumptions, real alternatives and costs and benefits during decision-making. While not every decision has to be reached by consensus, a certain frequency of consensus is necessary for any on-going partnership.
Sharing ownership and accountability
Partners leave room for other partners to make decisions and take ownership for particular actions and results.
In addition to all the formal communications like minutes, contracts and annual reports, successful partnerships also make significant investment in less formal communications. They share aspirations, concerns, intentions and all the other background to more formal communication. Don’t get me started on acronyms in this context.
Exchanging ideas as equals
Any partner should be able to easily raise and discuss almost any topic with his or her partners. Successful partnerships create both formal and informal opportunities for these idea exchanges and create a climate in which such exchanges are expected and rewarded.
Contributions will not all be the same, but every partner must always look to contribute in ways that value and support the contributions of other partners.
To remain vital, partnerships require innovation in the face of change, and adaptation to the new circumstances. As individual partners get better understandings of situations, they share that learning with others in the partnership and involve them in the learning process.
Sustainable partnership takes an explicit approach to managing adaptation and change. Good partnerships strike a balance between changing so much that the partnership is overwhelmed and changing so little that the partnership is no longer relevant to the evolving needs of the partners.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to partnership. Every partnership is as unique as the individuals or organizations of which it is made. Partnerships that work do so because of specific behaviors by the partners. Even at our best, our behaviors aren’t always consistent and don’t always match our best intentions. So it’s probably too much to expect that sun-drenched field of flowers. But all that complementary ability and energy just might bloom into the next fresh perspective for your organization.
Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC, a planning and program-development consulting firm in Madison, Wis. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone at 608/345-3958.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.