How do you know that working in partnership will deliver outcomes as good as - if not better than - those of your own organisation? Are the additional complexities of working across organisational and sectoral boundaries worth the management input?
Working in partnership is crucial to modernising services, and today many third sector agencies find themselves in the partnership ring. There are many different types of partnership, each with their own distribution of power and authority and a different level of formality and resources. Successful partnerships must be based on shared vision and goals, mutual trust, respect and collaborative approaches.
Once you are committed to the notion of partnership, the management task is to have the whole partnership process in mind, establishing, managing and supporting it.
There are five key areas to consider: who is accountable for performance, and responsible when things don't go well; the fit of the work with each partner organisation's interests and priorities; the organisation and communication of the partnership's work; how resources will be pooled and set against partnership objectives, and what value will be placed against these; and how risk, benefits, costs and rewards will be shared during the partnership's life.
Many partnerships start well, but they can get bogged down en route. Staff come and go, organisational priorities shift, resources promised do not transpire and those looking on get frustrated.
What makes a good partnership manager? Focus on outcomes and maintain relationships to deliver those outcomes, not just to keep the partnership going. This will keep people motivated.
Anticipate problems - not in order to sort them all out yourself, but so that you can alert partners to them and their potential impact. In this way, partners can work together to minimise their effect.
Refresh the way the partnership works together. Don't get in a rut and always do business in a certain way: meet in different partners' venues; visit model schemes and see if this inspires your partners; use different approaches, such as groups, presentations or the attendance of an expert, to explore issues and make decisions.
Give the partnership the time it needs and stay in it for the long haul. Partnerships take time to build, and outcomes even longer to deliver.
- Elaine Willis is a consultant and coach specialising in voluntary sector manahement. email@example.com