Fit for Partnerships: Creating a Partnership Friendly Organisation: Part 1

Many organisations have experience in partnerships; they know that when they establish a partnership they need a clear partnership plan and an agreement on how they will work together, and they know they have to maintain productive relationships.

What is often given less attention is what organisations need to do internally to support partnerships and collaborative efforts, what is necessary to be ‘partnership ready’ and ‘partnership friendly’. So what does a ‘partnership ready’ and ‘partnership friendly’ organisation look like? What does it have in place? Here are key ‘fit for partnership’ factors:

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Key Factor 1: Governance, Leadership and Management

The ability to work in partnership is supported by the organisation’s leaders and built into the way the organisation is managed. This means3 having:

  • A clearly defined vision for collaboration and partnerships and a rationale/purpose for partnering.
  • A framework, principles and strategy for the development of partnerships, and for working in partnership including the commitment of resources in money and time, and the communication of that strategy across the organisation and inclusion in all levels of organisational plans.
  • Partnership capabilities built into performance expectations. When we measure work performance we include the ability to work well in partnerships.
  • An approach and style of leadership that is suitable for partnership work.

Key Factor 2: Systems, Processes and Practices

This is a big one because it is includes just about everything an organisation does, and includes:

  • Systems, processes and practices that specifically relate to working in partnership, such as partnering policies on how to assess a potential partner, what to include in a partnership agreement or Memorandum of Understanding or (MOU), and reviewing partnerships, accompanying tools and templates.
  • And to general ones which promote and support partnership This means that a ‘partnership’ lens is applied to general systems, policies, procedures processes, and practices.

Here are some of these general ones:

People – including:

  • Recruiting for partnership – the inclusion of partnership skills and requirements, like the ability to work flexibly such as in different locations, and as a member of different teams, in selection criteria.
  • Partnership expectations in job descriptions, employment contracts, work plans, and performance appraisal processes.
  • The inclusion of partnership work in staff induction and orientation, supervision, and learning and development.

How we plan and manage – program and project planning and management such as decision-making and approval processes, risk management, evaluation, resources and funding. For example, a staff member has been approached about a potential partnership project that it will require a commitment of time and resources. It’s not clear who give the OK for the partnership to proceed – who has to give the final approval, or it takes so long for a decision to be made, that the potential partner starts to doubt the commitment and/or the competency of the organisation. Clear internal planning, decision making and approval processes make organisations ‘partnership fit.’

Information we collect and how we keep it: Systematically maintaining information on partnerships, such as when to review a partnership agreement, and also information that will support the measurement of shared outcomes, how we measure not just the results that our organisation is achieving but the results that our organisations are achieving together.

Partnership within – internal collaboration across programs and the systems, processes and practice which support it, such as cross program projects.

Key Factor 3: Roles

In some organisations there are dedicated positions, even units to coordinate and resource partnerships and to build capacity across the organisation to working in partnership. We may not have the resources to establish such positions and there is debate in the literature whether dedicated partnership functions/positions make a significant difference to the quality of partnerships; the consensus seems to be that even if we do have them, it is best to embed partnership work in everyone’s role.

Key Factor 4: Capability

Capability means knowledge, skills, attributes and capacity. Capability is required at all levels of the organisation, and includes:

  • The ability to be a ‘connector’ and to build and work in networks and teams (specifically cross agency and cross disciplinary teams).
  • The ability to build trust and to be trustworthy.
  • Good communication skills with people in different roles and sectors.
  • The ability to work in multiple roles and in multiple teams.
  • Problem solving

Micro skills and attributes are also important – like responding to emails and phone calls. Prioritising communication with partners is crucial for trusting working relationships.

Key Factor 5: Organisational Culture

Obviously, the other four factors influence culture. Other aspects of organisational culture will be discussed in the next blog.

A version of this paper was presented at the Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) conference in August 2016.

Look out for the next blog in the Partnerships series on: Fit for Partnerships: Creating a Partnership Friendly Organisation – Key Factor 5: Organisational Culture

Grace Leotta is an organisational community development and training consultant. She supports organisations and networks establish, manage and review partnerships and collaborative efforts, and provides training on various aspects of partnership.