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Effective partnership working
Getting the basics right from start to finish
How partnerships work and the benefits of forming them
A partnership is an arrangement between two or more groups, organizations or individuals to work together to achieve common aims. The term is now widely used, and sometimes it’s applied to situations where one powerful organization is doing no more than consult with others, or where one organization is simply buying something off another. But these are not real partnerships in the true sense. If they were, then every time your team asked another team for some information or advice, or ordered a product/service, these interactions would be described as partnerships! So what distinguishes such interactions from a true partnership?
Partnerships usually have the following characteristics …
- All the parties involved have some sort of personal stake in the partnership;
- All the partners are working towards a common aim;
- The partners have a similar ethos or system of beliefs;
- The partners work together over a reasonable period of time;
- There is agreement amongst the partners that a partnership is necessary;
- There is an understanding of the value of what each partner can contribute;
- There is respect and trust between the different partners.
Partnerships are often more successful than individual endeavours because one group isn’t saddled with the responsibility of doing everything within its own constraints of perception, knowledge, skills or other resources. And having access to a wider variety of ideas and being able to share the financial costs of achieving a desired aim also means that an organization could confidently tackle issues they had previously steered clear of.
Partnerships are also successful because …
- They share creativity, risk, responsibility and resources;
- Participants are able to feed off each other’s energy and enthusiasm;
- They can attract more funding from a diverse range of sources;
- They highlight different issues, problems and solutions;
- There is more potential for productivity/efficiency;
- Service delivery is often more effective;
- They offer support and diversity.
However, for partnerships to add such value, there must be a high amount of planning, flexibility, energy and commitment by all the parties involved. With planning, for example, a successful partnership will have back-up plans in the event that one or more of the partners cannot attend an important meeting or event. This could mean filling that partner in at a later date, taping the event for them or sending them the minutes of the meeting, or having delegated decision-making arrangements.
The important point about flexibility is that the partnership structure should be tolerant enough to understand when another partner genuinely cannot meet a commitment but rigorous enough to weed out those groups who are not 100% committed to the partnership.
Other key ingredients to making a partnership work are…
- Clarity of information – always tell your partners exactly what is planned;
- Consultation – before you start, get to the heart of the problems you’re facing and invite everyone to give feedback and ideas;
- Deciding together – after you’ve encouraged everyone to provide additional ideas, work through each one together and decide the best way forward;
- Acting together – after you have decided on the course of action, ensure that each willing member of the partnership is involved in carrying it out.
Different types of partnerships
A partnership can be between individuals, voluntary, public or private sector organizations. For example, there can be…
- Voluntary and voluntary partnerships
- Voluntary and private sector partnerships
- Voluntary and public sector partnerships
- Voluntary sector and individual partnerships
- Public and private sector partnerships
- Voluntary, public and private sector partnerships
There are no hard and fast rules as to what constitutes a partnership. For example, although many people will only consider ‘true’ partnerships as those where the stakeholders are not being paid to take part, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) usually involve financial payments.
Types of partner
There are generally three types of partner …
- A consultant partner is an organization or individual with an interest in the project
- A member partner is an organization with resources to give to the project. For instance, they might commit to providing staff or offices
- A core member is an essential part of a partnership, taking an active part in co-ordinating, planning and monitoring the partnership
How to identify which people and organizations to include in partnerships
You can’t have a partnership unless you have someone to partner with. One of the easiest ways of finding partners is to join an existing partnership. There may be ideal partners at a local, regional, national or even international level who would greatly enhance the success of your operations. However, joining an existing partnership will only be possible if the issues the partnership is tackling are similar to yours or if the projects they’re planning are of benefit to your client group.
If you’re attempting a radical new project or tackling issues that have not been addressed before, you may have to build your own partnerships from scratch. Before you begin looking for partners, it is essential that you have a specific idea of what you plan to do and what kind of help you may need to do it. For example, if you plan to start a project to get ex-offenders into work, you will need help from the local prison and local businesses.
If your organization works with a particular client group you should also identify organizations that are working with such a group elsewhere. These groups may be able to become partners or may simply offer you advice and contacts.
Getting recommendations from people and organizations you regularly network with are one of the best ways of finding new partner organizations. Your regular network would usually consist of people you respect and who know your organization’s ethos. If they come across an individual or organization that they believe is worthwhile for you to speak with, then you should at least try meet with that individual or organization.
Here are some key questions you must ask when considering forming your partnership …
- What are you trying to achieve, and how will you explain that to others?
- Is your plan viable?
- Is it a long-term or a short- term project?
- Will you need just a few or many partners?
- Will your partners have to contribute money?
- Where will you get money?
- Will your partners be mainly advisory?
- Who else offers services similar to yours?
- What other organizations are involved in helping your client group?
- How do those organizations operate?
- How effective are other organizations at providing their service?
- Which organizations could help in planning or organizing your operations?
- Can you see gaps between your work and that of a potential partner, or any duplication?
After you have dealt with the initial questions you can begin to lay the groundwork for the partnership. Here are some guidelines on how to make a start …
- Identify the stakeholders who can help or hinder the project
- Differentiate between who you really need as partners and who would want to be a partner
- Before approaching potential partners, make sure you have support and agreement within your own organization about working with others
- Make informal contact with potential partners to find out about their attitudes and interests before putting out formal proposals
- Communicate with your potential partners in a language they will understand and focus on what they may want to achieve
- Plan the partnership process step by step, for example, a new organization may well take a year to set up and this would need to be budgeted into the project’s timescale
Trust is an essential criterion for partnership. When you are seeking partners it is vital that you deal with any issues about trust and accountability first. To help establish trust, focus on the ways you can work together and actively seek out any shared values and ways working. Once you have entered into partnership you need to further develop this trust.
You can do this by…
- Meeting people informally
- Delivering what you promise
- Being prepared to make mistakes and admit them
- Drawing out and dealing with any suspicions from past contacts
- Being open and honest about what you are trying to achieve and about any problems or barriers that exist
- Having no hidden agendas
Encouraging others to join in
Once you have undergone the task of identifying the partners you need to or would like to work with, the next step is approaching them. This can be daunting as there’s no guarantee that the partners you are interested in will be as enthusiastic about your aims as you are.
If your operations benefit the local community or the client group of another organization, then your work might be made a lot easier. This is because the potential partner may buy-in to the partnership, or at least be prepared to work with you, in order to make the operations a success. However, if the link between your work and the local community is tenuous, or if your partners would be expected to contribute financially, you will have to work harder to convince them.
You should always make sure that you have support and agreement within your own organization before trying to work with others, otherwise you may end up fighting an internal battle while trying to make the partnership work at the same time.
Before putting formal proposals to potential partners, make informal contact to find out about their attitudes and interests. Encourage them to talk about what they would like to achieve from the project and try to accommodate these aims if possible.
Have the right attitude
When you are trying to form a partnership it’s vital that you have the right attitude, both to your potential partners and to your own operations. Remember that the partners are stakeholders and should be treated as such. Do not make the mistake of assuming that because the approach originated from you, you therefore ‘own’ the operations. In a true partnership, there are no bosses and underlings.
A second point is to make sure that you are always open and honest with your partners. And you should always stress that you expect the same from them.
Finally, be honest with yourself about your operations and be open to ideas from others. It is tempting to want to rush into a partnership because the benefits of it may be so wonderful. But anything worth doing is worth doing well, so take time to plan the partnership process thoroughly and give your partners sufficient time to act. A new partnership will take some time to set up.
On the other hand, if you think partners are deliberately dragging their feet then you have every right to make sure that things are accelerated.
Funding a partnership
A partnership’s success will depend heavily on the resources it has at its disposal. It is also easier for potential partners to commit to a partnership if they know that it will be properly financed or, at least, if they know that adequate funding can be sourced. One of the major benefits of establishing a partnership is that it can win grants for specific projects, so you should communicate this information to your potential partners.
Guidelines for getting a partnership started on the right footing
A meeting of minds does not always ensure that things will go smoothly. Just because your partners have agreed to come on board doesn’t necessarily mean that they will agree with all the decisions made or that they will get along with each other or even with you.
The initial stages of the partnership are a very important time as the mood established during that period could set the tone for the rest of the partnership and could affect how successful it will be. Like any relationship (for that is what a partnership is) trust, openness and honesty are also vital elements to its success. This is why you need to plan the process so that every partner is involved and informed at each step of the way. You can use a range of methods to involve people – workshop sessions and team building exercises work particularly well, as do formal meetings or even an informal ‘launch’ event that allows the partners to socialize. Be sociable and give the partners time to get to know each other.
Partnerships also evolve over time and you should be prepared for that evolution to happen. For example, one partner may be willing and able to play a big role at the beginning of the relationship but their involvement might decrease towards the end. On the other hand, an organization or individual who had originally signed up as only a consultant partner may later decide that they want a more proactive role.
Always strive to encourage ideas from your partners, not just by telling them that their ideas are valued but also by showing them that they are. If a partner comes up with an idea, don’t shoot it down because you feel it doesn’t fit in with your plans. Consider it carefully and, if it’s a good idea, use it. If you don’t want to use it, explain why it doesn’t fit. Seeing that their ideas are valued and used will help partners feel a sense of ownership and ownership leads to commitment.
In a partnership, there may sometimes be one big voice and several little ones. Make sure that the partner with the loudest voice is not the one that’s always heard. You can do this by actively encouraging the softer voiced partners to give input and ideas.
Make informal contact with all your partners to find out about their attitudes and interests before you put together formal proposals. A telephone call, e-mail or a lunch could give everyone the opportunity to have their views heard clearly and without any distortions.
Many partnerships will involve a wide variety of organizations and people. There might be local voluntary groups, the local council and local businesses. This diversity is a key strength in partnerships and it should be catered for in your communication methods.
A small, local group may not understand all the jargon that is too often a large element of political, public and voluntary sector speech. Communicate with your partners in simple language that they will all understand and focus on what they all want to achieve. Be open and honest with everyone and whenever possible, try to ensure that everyone receives the same information at the same time. And remember that although information is essential for all participation it is not participatory in itself. Therefore you have to make sure that your communications lead to positive and real actions.
When organizations are faced with tight timetables and firm guidelines on partnerships it is difficult to think through all the complexities for participation and partnership and there is a strong temptation to go for a quick fix and hope to sort things out later. Quick fixes rarely work and later will be too late. Sort out every issue as it crops up in the partnership and give yourselves adequate time to do so.
10 tips for successful partnerships
Partnerships have great potential for progressing a cause, tackling difficult issues and accessing funding. But it takes a lot of hard work and commitment for them to succeed. Much of the work is common sense – for example, there shouldn’t be one ‘important’ partner that takes precedence over the others, instead each partner should be allowed to contribute ideas. However, it’s extremely easy to let common sense fly out the window when you are faced with the hard task of running the partnership on a day-to-day basis. For example, one partner might be putting in the most money, time, or commitment while others are constantly making up excuses for not being 100% committed. The key is to use your judgement and management skills and to try to follow best practice wherever possible. Try to get the best out of each partner, through coaxing or by reminding them of the commitment they made to the project.
Here are some tips for creating and running good partnerships …
- Take time to build the partnership
- Have an effective management structure
- Develop a shared an aspirational vision of what might be achieved and set a ‘stretch’ mission
- Develop compatible ways of working and be flexible
- Appoint a leader who is respected by all the partners
- Ensure that each partner shares their mandates and agendas
- Have open avenues of communication and use a facilitator if necessary
- Ensure that the partners never lose sight of the vision and mission
- Make decisions collaboratively and always strive to reach consensus
- Keep the welfare of the beneficiaries at the forefront of the process
Warning signs that signal your partnership may be in trouble
Partnerships are becoming more popular as people and organizations try to take advantage of the many benefits they can offer. However, not every partnership will succeed. In fact, some partnerships can go horribly wrong if the right procedures are not followed and if the right attitude is not present in all the partners. For example, an organization may enter into a partnership simply because it is ‘told’ to by another (controlling) party. While this may not be bad in itself, if the organization has no natural commitment, the partnership will suffer or even disintegrate.
Here are some classic warning signs of partnerships in trouble …
- Evidence that some partners have hidden agendas;
- Unrealistic goals;
- Lack of clear purpose;
- Lack of communication;
- One partner manipulates or dominates;
- A history of conflict among key interests;
- Key interests missing from the partnership;
- Differences of philosophy and ways of working;
- An unequal and unacceptable balance of power and control;
- The financial and time commitments outweigh the potential benefits.
No partnership will ever be perfect and if you spot any difficulties simply take a few steps back. Establish why the partnership was formed, re-visit the core reasons why the partnership was necessary in the first place and then sit down together and review what was wrong honestly and openly. Learn from previous failings and use the information from the review to build a new, stronger partnership.
Priority management means using your available time in an effective and fulfilling manner. The principle of effective priority management is that we take enough time for the truly essential tasks. The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time, it’s more about how the time available is used – and how priorities are set. Like any other resource time can be either used well or misused. Time is a very valuable resource in a partnership, especially when we are balancing different people’s schedules and levels of involvement. Partnerships are damaged when people feel that their time is being wasted, the relationship isn’t given the time it needs to develop or people fall behind on schedules or commitments.
One of the most critical areas of responsibility assigned in a partnership is financial management and budgeting. Staying within budget and efficiently managing financial resources are often the most important criteria used to measure the success of a partnership. Even if the partnership has achieved great things, the perception that resources are not well managed or used wisely may undermine support for it. Partnerships have a responsibility to set a budget, live within it and be able to demonstrate that resources are being used efficiently.
Guidelines are …
- Establish a budget and keep within it;
- Look for the best value from your money;
- Be able to clearly demonstrate where and how you have used your money;
- Meet any reporting or accounting requests required in the partnership.
Recruiting and working with volunteers
Partnerships sometimes involve a mix of paid workers and volunteers. Knowing how to recruit, support and work with volunteers is an essential set of skills needed in partnerships. Some of the most common skills are sensitivity, respect for time, the ability to value skills developed outside the workforce, appreciation for different motivations as well as skills related to providing feedback and retaining interest and enthusiasm.
Dealing with stress in a group
Everyone has different levels of stress, ways of responding to it and methods of reducing it. Partnerships can cause additional stress to leaders who face managing several processes and activities at a time within a diverse group of individuals, often with few resources and very little time. Being irritable, having difficulty sleeping and experiencing feelings of fear or panic can all be signs of stress. Recognize that having a role in a partnership may result in stress, so be aware of it and manage it if it becomes a problem. Training or professional help may be required when stress is a major concern to the partnership members, or if any individual is experiencing real difficulties with it.
Keeping your eyes on the prize
Evaluation usually appears as one of the final steps in the partnership process but it needs to be built in right at the beginning. Evaluating the partnership on a regular basis helps highlight your successes and flags up areas that need work. Regular evaluation is often a component of outside funding so having a system in place and agreeing on how it will work is a key ingredient to a successful partnership.
Progress in a partnership is tied to achieving your goals. Once you have established a set of goals you can look at ways of measuring and communicating your progress towards them. When outside funding is involved – like foundation grants or government programmes – there are multiple levels of evaluation that need to be considered. Any funder is going to want to know that what has been funded is actually taking place. In addition, the funder may have assessment or evaluation criteria that must be built into the design of the partnership. This should be discussed and agreed early in the relationship so that there are no surprises and so that data can be collected as and when needed. With government funding, there may be audits and special evaluations that focus on the use of the funds, measures of success or tracking systems. Try to determine in advance what the expectations are, what systems are to be used for data gathering and what measures of success are important to the funders.
Finally, there is no point in assessing progress or evaluating success if the information gathered isn’t acted on. Monitoring should be done in such a way that you have the time and resources to make changes.
The end of a partnership
Partnerships have endings and ideally this will be a positive and satisfying end to a productive grouping. Some partnerships go on for a very long time with far-reaching or long-term goals. They might need to consider points of closure along the way in order to feel that progress has been made. Having phases or different intervals of completion will allow for a sense of accomplishment and provide opportunity for celebration. Normally this happens when goals have been reached, the project has been completed or the purpose of the partnership has been satisfied. At this point, the partnership, as it was designed, will end or be revised.
Whether you are finishing a stage or moving on to other goals, changes will occur. Before moving on to the next stage you should review the partnership’s impact. Over the course of a partnership people change and relationships are built. Understanding the need for a marked ending is fundamental to creating a sense of satisfaction for having been involved, or to prepare the ground for further or different involvement together. Sometimes people who have been completely involved in the partnership may return to their regular work and to an organization that has not been directly involved in the partnership. Having a formal ending to the partnership allows a free return to regular duties, with a feeling of completion and appreciation.
Throughout the life of the partnership, strong bonds are formed between various individuals and with the group as a whole. It helps to acknowledge that the initial basis for the friendships, the partnership itself, may be ending, but the friendships don’t have to. People who have worked together in one partnership will often work together on another one. They will bring with them their skills, experience and the knowledge that they can work together.
Endings should have the same attention paid to them as beginnings. Care should be taken to acknowledge the results of the partnership, the various individuals who have made a difference, and the effort that the group itself has made.
Creating a vision and mission
Creating an aspirational vision and associated mission is an ideal way to start a partnership process and should help inspire everyone involved. By describing what the future could look like as a result of the efforts of the partnership, everyone involved will be able to see the need for the effort it will take. You can then focus on how your partnership is going to contribute to the achievement of the vision. This can be the basis for a high level of motivation. Some partnership groups like to capture their vision and mission in a one or two line vision/mission statement which describes what they want to achieve to people within the partnership and those they will be working with along the way.
Make sure everyone who is going to be involved in making things happen has a chance to contribute – start with a lot of ideas and ‘whittle them down’. Concentrate on reaching agreement on the big ideas. Try to avoid getting bogged down on the use of particular words, processes or references. Use a variety of methods to capture people’s thoughts – words, pictures, flip charts or even poems – anything that will help give a sense of how it could look and feel. Combine the ideas and thoughts into a clear picture to share with everyone. Then find a simple way of describing it in one or two lines.
Your vision and mission give you a clear idea of where you want to go – your goals are a roadmap of how you are going to get there. Goals are statements of intent created by looking at your mission and figuring what you are going to do to get there. The best way to achieve your mission is to set a number of goals you can reach along the way. The more basic your goals – the easier it is to understand how to reach them. This might seem obvious but remember – you’re trying to move a lot of people, some of whom may not be involved in the partnership for the duration. Simple, short term goals help foster good communication, motivation and make it easier to measure your progress along the way and find solutions to problems that might crop up.
When targeting your goals …
- Describe the current situation – find a common definition of the issue, problem, opportunity or desired outcomes;
- Refer to the vision and decide what has to change or happen to make it possible – what is the gap that exists between the current situation and the vision? Identify the broad-based areas of action that will close the gaps – these are the goals;
- Write the goals down in a way that everyone can understand;
- Make sure that your goals can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time. The goals have to be do-able, measurable and realistic given time and resources;
- Make sure the partners support the goals;
Discuss how you will know when you have been successful, or when your goals have been reached. This will help with progress reports, and will form the foundation for evaluation.
Conflict and compromise
By managing conflict well in a partnership you can minimize hassles and get the most out of the process. It’s also important to recognize that confrontation between partners does not equal failure. Purpose is what drives any operation and differences of opinion often arise when people are passionate about what they do. If handled correctly – in an environment that encourages listening and compromise – conflict can often shed light on a problem or help groups find better ways of doing things.
Some people like a good fight, others do everything in their power to maintain consensus. Both approaches can be effective when you’re trying to get things done and both can be destructive if taken to extreme – the key is balance. If you’re spending too much time arguing about how to get things done, who should be doing what and when it’s meant to be finished then you probably need to establish (or re-establish) your ground rules. Remind everyone what the goals of the partnership are and why it’s important to achieve them. Use some time together as a group to identify the source of the conflict and ask everyone in the group to come up with a potential compromise. And listen! The more people are listened to the more confident and involved they feel – not to mention the ideas and solutions that will arise. Anyone can be a leader in a group by showing good listening skills and its effects on a group can be dramatic. If you think that things aren’t going the way they should in your partnership you should let your partner(s) know with a good, clear explanation through appropriate channels. Little problems usually only get bigger with time and it’s a lot easier to set a precedent over a small issue early on in a partnership than to sort out a big mess a few months down the road.
And, once again, listen! This allows other people be heard. Give people involved in a partnership the means and opportunity to voice their concerns and comment on the progress of your project or operations. Countless studies reveal that people working directly on projects are likely to spot problems (and their solutions) long before their managers do but are unlikely to report them if they feel they won’t be listened to.
Partnerships, even between charities, are becoming increasingly formalized and business-like. This may make them more efficient but it’s also important to recognize that many people get involved in not-for-profit and charity work because they care passionately about people. Fostering strong ties between teams working in partnership and understanding one-another’s narratives makes people want to go that extra mile for each other and tolerate differences that may otherwise cause problems.
Personal conflicts can be the most destructive to any organization and this is just as true in partnerships. It’s worth noting that confident, secure, happy people are far less likely to find themselves in personal confrontations than those who are insecure and unmotivated. Avoiding a meltdown starts with making sure that you and your partnership members are happy, feel secure in their jobs and believe in what you are all doing. If you sense personal conflicts erupting between members of a partnership its important to help both parties get to a point where they can at least work productively together (or, in the worst possible case, move them off the partnership so that they don’t do any lasting damage).
Communicating in a partnership
Many confrontations can be avoided before they start by thinking ahead, having good communication and being clear about your goals. Often confrontations arise because people don’t have all the facts or are working from a different set of assumptions. If you start with a clear set of goals, stages you want to get to as you achieve them and a way of monitoring progress it will be easier to identify the real problems and reduce confusion. Communication is often harder between groups than it is within them. You can take a lot for granted when speaking with someone else within your organization because you already have a good understanding of how things work, what your goals are, the way you do things and the particular jargon that relates to what you are doing. Jargon, acronyms and specialized language that is going to be hard for someone outside your organization needs to be weeded out of meetings and e-mails. Communication between groups needs to be regularly scheduled and probably more formalized than it is within your organization. It is also important to get together often enough. The telephone, e-mail and other technologies can dramatically increase the speed of communication. They can also lead to feelings of alienation, depersonalisation and outright misunderstanding. If at all possible, be sure to schedule at least an hour of ‘face time’ every month with the key players on both sides of a partnership.
Broadly speaking there are three different constituents you need to think about when developing a communication strategy, i.e. …
- Within the partnership group
- From the partnership group to the community
- From the community to the partnership group
Partnerships give and receive a lot of information and the amount of communication we all have to deal with has been increased by technologies like e-mail and mobile communications. To avoid overloading your own organization and its partners with information it’s important to remember that more isn’t better. One of the keys to good communication in a group is being able to take a large amount of information, distil the important points and understand what they might mean to various individuals, without telling them what to think.
Providing information in an organized way and having someone in charge of it is the cornerstone of a communication strategy and most partnerships require a strategy for communication and information sharing.
The strategy should include measures to achieve the following …
- The day-to-day information for the partnership group
- An overview of information for interested others (like a brochure or website)
- Specific information as required for the media or for funding sources
- Focused information for support and lobbying purposes
- Information for the public or community at large
It’s also important to be clear about who has authority to speak for the group when it comes to speaking to your partners, the public and the media. It’s a good idea to assign different experts to talk about different aspects of your activities. Assigning responsibility for communication and discussing openly what information will be shared is the way to avoid problems before they start.
If you’re a large organization or expect a good deal of media coverage it’s a good idea to assign someone the role of press officer. This person acts as a point of contact for the press and should be familiar with the assigned experts in your group and have information to hand about who you are, what you do and why you’re doing it.
- Develop a communication plan by identifying who needs information and how it should be presented
- Avoid information overload – focus on delivering what is needed when it is needed Wherever possible make an effort to explain what the information means to the partnership and the broader audience, if there is one
- Use common sense and courtesy with communication
- Review the basics of good communication to remember how important it can be to group dynamics
- Write things so that they will be read. Try to summarize. Present only the key issues and identify decision points
Every organization develops its own language and culture where individuals within it develop their own terms, jargon and ways of expressing themselves. If you’ve ever started fresh at an organization you will immediately recognize this and remember that it took time to learn what all the acronyms stood for, what the job titles really meant, what the names of different projects signified and so on. When taking on a partnership you need to understand that your partner will face the same problems – and so will you.
Four steps to avoid communication problems around this issue are…
- Avoid jargon as much as possible
- Try to avoid acronyms – this can be tough in the public sector or big organizations where they tend to be very common
- If there are a lot of acronyms in use around your organization think about creating a fact sheet that explains what they all mean
- Some words mean different things in different contexts. Agree to a working use or meaning of commonly used words or terms
Tools for communication
Technology is only as good as the results it delivers. Developing a strategy for how you’ll use technology in your partnership means understanding your needs, the resources to hand and your desired outcomes. Good partnerships require good communication. Information technology gives your organization the opportunity to maintain close contact with other organizations and work with people all over the world. But sometimes organizations forget that technology exists to open doors – not close them. This is probably the most important thing to remember when using IT to communicate with your partner. It’s no good using the latest model PC to whip up a power point presentation and e-mail it off to a partner who would have to spend hundreds of pounds on a system upgrade and new software just to look at it.
Some of the most powerful and effective campaigns have been run from a kitchen table with nothing more advanced than a notepad and a telephone. It’s important to understand that budgetary constraints or the desire to spend money ‘where it’s needed most’ might prevent your partner from having access to the same technology you do. Part of establishing rapport with a partner is understanding the best way to communicate. If you all have internet connected computers then e-mail, websites and other messaging systems will serve you well, if one partner doesn’t have access to these then the telephone and post can be just as effective.
E-mail is easy to use – easy to abuse. When communicating between organizations with e-mail it’s important to use common sense. Your office might be very laid back but your partners may not and firing off one or two line missives, chock-full of spelling mistakes and creative grammar, could be perceived as discourteous and unprofessional. This doesn’t mean your e-mails need to look stiff and overly formal. But you don’t need to be a wordsmith to open with a greeting, use passable grammar, sentence and paragraph structure and close with a salutation. Also, remember to fill in the subject line and include a ‘signature’ with your full name including the name of your organization, postal address, URL (if you have a website) and phone number.
If you’re working in a well funded, modern office it can be easy to forget that many people are running operations out of their homes or in small offices with tiny budgets. If you are going to send a large attachment with an e-mail (above 1 megabyte is a good rule of thumb) it’s a good idea to call the recipient before you send it to make sure it isn’t going to clog their system.
E-mail groups can also be a powerful way to share ideas with a team, set dates and times for meetings and distribute information. Again use common sense when sending all office or all team e-mails. Before sending an e-mail to a large group of people you should be sure that there isn’t any sensitive information in it that may embarrass your partners or put them in an awkward situation (you may know someone is leaving their team for example but perhaps they haven’t told their colleagues yet). Avoid forwarding jokes, funny pictures, attachments and the like. Again, this might be acceptable in your office but strictly off limits in your partners’.
Websites can be a very useful tool in developing partnerships. A website can be a place for your partner to find out about your organization, its policy, vision, the people who work there and so on. You can also use a website to share information within a group, post images, results of campaigns and your achievements.
Bringing up problems
Keeping on track is a matter of understanding your goals and the steps you need to take to achieve them. When this breaks down its time for leaders to step up and put the partnership back on track. When leaders aren’t capable of this the result is fragmentation and confusion. Staying on track involves having a clear direction, good leadership and discipline. Partnerships take constant effort and the process of group and team building is ongoing. Keeping true to the vision and values of the partnership will bring focus, while being attentive to members interests, needs and motivations will add momentum.
Asking challenging questions can be difficult – especially when they have to do with roles and responsibilities. The questioner may be made to feel too picky or pushy or not a real team player and those asked can become defensive or feel personally challenged. But it has to be done. It’s up to every person within a partnership to keep track of the things that are personally relevant, making sure that they ask enough questions to make things clear. Remember – if you don’t understand something there will always be others who don’t either.
Meetings are the heart and soul of a partnership. The best advice about what actually constitutes a good meeting will come from the people involved in your partnership. Asking them what they need and then providing it will keep meetings effective, valued and worth attending. It also will show that the partnership can and will respect input from the group. A good meeting lives up to these expectations and it’s impossible to do this without knowing what the expectations are.
Be sure to…
- Provide the agenda in advance and, within reason, stick to it. Prioritise things as need be, and put a name beside each item so everyone knows who will deal with it
- Keep paper to a minimum but make sure a record is kept. Bullet-point form is fine and so are neat handwritten notes
- Have a skilled chairperson and consider rotating or sharing this role. Make use of skilled people and keep things on track
- Acknowledge contributions, including comments or ideas. Don’t leave things dangling in the air as if they weren’t heard
- Handle conflict as it happens, don’t let things build up
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