With budgets tight, is coaching a worthwhile expenditure?

With budgets tight, is coaching a worthwhile expenditure?

Thanks to Claire Collins, Director of the Diploma in Business Administration at Henley Business School.

There is no doubt that considerable sums of money these days are invested in coaching as a form of employee development in organisations. What is also true is that it is very difficult to know how effective this investment is or what is the best way to get optimum value for money from offering coaching to staff. The CIPD’s 2011 report, The Coaching Climate, showed that coaching is offered by 75% of the organisations surveyed and that, even in these straightened times, 84% of these are using it more than was reported two years ago. The two main purposes for undertaking coaching are stated as being; improvement in performance and employee engagement. Although it is problematic to try to quantify the beneficial effect that coaching in business has on the bottom line, research demonstrates that a number of indirect benefits can be realised that lead to improved engagement, better performance, greater efficiency and effectiveness and, ultimately, enhanced business results. Some of these indirect benefits include: lower burn-out rates, improved psychological health, better communication, reduced candour and denial, higher resilience, learning adherence, greater capability and capacity and improved interpersonal relationships. In addition, by persisting with these improvements, organisational costs such as sickness and high turnover can be reduced.

The many forms of coaching

What is less often understood is that there are different forms of coaching that can bring about these positive outcomes. The most common route is to engage coaches, either internally or externally sourced, to work with particular groups of staff as part of a formal development process. The coach and coachee sit in a private space and conduct a one and a half hour session in which deeply meaningful issues are discussed, options for change generated and an action plan agreed. While this is a simplistic view of a very sophisticated intervention, it is the most commonly used coaching format. However, an alternative way of embedding coaching is for the organisation to adapt to a coaching style of leadership. The skills of listening and questioning in order to address developmental issues become embedded in the organisation’s culture and it forms the prevailing philosophy behind key leader-follower interactions. By embracing a coaching culture as the bedrock of the organisation’s conversations, the indirect benefits listed above are achieved in a systemic way.

One to one relationships

However, let us return to the more conventional coaching approach; the one-to-one conversation. Are there ways in which the organisation can stack the odds in favour of getting a good return on its spend? Fortunately, recent research suggests that this is, indeed, achievable. One of the most vital aspects of a successful coaching intervention is that the relationship between coach and coachee is as positive as possible. Good rapport, openness and the establishment of trust are shown to lead to better coaching conversations and stronger outcomes. So as to achieve this, a deliberate process of matching the pair together should be undertaken. Coachees should be given a choice of who they would like to work with, ideally, from at least three candidates. In order to achieve this short list, some process of selection should take place in the organisation, based on a range of criteria relevant to the situation, which might include the coach’s experience, accreditation, previous clients, supervision and style. The coachee should then be given the opportunity to meet each potential coach. This does not have to be a long drawn-out process. In fact, it has been shown that a brief encounter of only five minutes is sufficient for this matching decision to be made. Once the match is achieved, a three-way meeting between the coach, coachee and the person commissioning the coaching enables clarification of the objectives of the coaching, and the expectations on each party. At the commencement of the coaching sessions themselves, a robust contracting conversation should establish important aspects, such as confidentiality and boundaries of the coaching. These preparatory actions strengthen the likelihood of a fruitful coaching relationship being formed, which itself is an indicator of better coaching outcomes.

Good coaching is worthwhile to the business

So, is coaching worth the spend? I believe that it certainly is, if an organisation approaches it systematically, sets up the coaching relationship well and makes the most of the indirect benefits that accrue this most surely builds performance, engagement and ultimately business success.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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The 25 Most Influential Management Books

According to Time Magazine, here are the 25 books that most significantly changed the way we think about management, leadership and organizations.

1.  The Age of Unreason (1989), by Charles Handy.

Handy’s 1989 book made a powerful case for what might then have been called, without irony, outside-the-box business thinking. Handy, then a visiting professor at the London Business School, described dramatic social changes going on in everyday life and in the workplace. New technologies and the decrease of full-time positions, among other transformations, requires abandoning the established rules and experimenting with new ways of working with one another. Handy’s book only grew in stature in the decades after its publication as the rise of the Internet, ubiquitous communication, increased outsourcing, and the explosion of social media proved his vision to be amazingly prescient.

2.  Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (1994), by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras.

This landmark survey of 18 “visionary” companies attempts to suss out what made successful behemoths like Disney, 3M, and Sony stand out. Stanford business professor Jerry Porras and Good to Great author Jim Collins found that, contrary to popular belief, the companies that blow competitors out of the water aren’t so much driven by sexy leaders or staunch focus. Instead, what they have in common is strong corporate culture. In other words, hire bright people and allow them to thrive. Seems like common sense, but in the late 90s the book raised eyebrows.

3.  Competing for the Future (1996), by Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad.

Stating that their book “provides would-be revolutionaries with the tools and concepts they need to challenge the protectors of the past,” Hamel and Prahalad argued for a much broader conception of business strategy — a redefinition that has since solidified into a received truth. They show that strategic planning must happen all the time, not just during discreet breaks from a company’s regular business; that it must be emotional, meaningful, and purpose-driven, not just analytical; and that this impulse must be nurtured throughout an organization, not just among strategists and consultants. Among the key teachings is that executives need to actively nurture their company’s “core competencies” to anticipate — and not merely adapt to — industry changes.

4.  Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (1980), by Michael E. Porter.

For three decades, Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy has been the starting point for managers wanting to maximize profitability within a competitive marketplace. The Harvard Business School professor’s five basic competitive forces, which condense and simplify the complexity of industry competition, are as relevant today as they were in 1980. With step-by-step tools to help managers select new industries to enter, forecast how industries evolve, and recognize “market signals” from competitors, Porter breaks down the three generic competitive factors — cost, differentiation and focus — that are vital for helping managers conduct industry and competitor analysis.

5.  Emotional Intelligence (1995), by Daniel Goleman.

What factors are at play, asks the author, “when people of high IQ flounder and those of modest IQ do surprisingly well?” Those qualities, such as self-control, persistence and motivation, are known as emotional intelligence or EQ. Without them, writes Goleman, careers are often unnecessarily dashed on the rocks. There is hope, though: “Temperament is not destiny,” he writes. The author explains how a higher EQ can be developed through psychological education. The compelling ideas the author introduces have since become a means of assessing and nurturing an employee’s behavior and management skills.

6.  The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Business Don’t Work and What to Do about It (1985), by Michael E. Gerber

Gerber’s small business management guide is often called an underground success, but its passionate following has grown far beyond the usual definition of a cult. The “E-Myth,” or entrepreneurial myth, of the title refers to the common — and usually disastrous — assumption that a person who excels at the technical or operational work of a business will naturally succeed at running such a business. Gerber dispels the myth by showing that, in addition to being a technician, a successful business owner must be an effective manager (who excels at systematizing the company’s profitable work) and entrepreneur (who has a vision for the company’s future).

7.  The Essential Drucker (2001), by Peter Drucker.

Over a career that spanned nearly 60 years before he died in 2005 at age 95, Peter Drucker single-handedly invented the field of management theory. For most of the last half of the 20th century, he was the superstar CEO’s go-to guru, counseling everyone from Alfred Sloan to Andy Grove. And not in the fuzzy-headed, inspirational, bromide-spouting guru sense you see today. Drucker had no time for discussing who moved your cheese, and his insights were distinctive for being simultaneously crystalline yet deeply contrarian — and, frequently, a generation ahead of their time. Just one example: He was talking about the rise and importance of “knowledge workers” in the 1970s, when the phrase was a good two decades from common parlance. With 30 books to choose from, it’s probably best to start with The Essential Drucker, a potent 26-piece collection selected by Drucker himself in 2001 as a comprehensive representation of his life’s work.

8.  The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990), by Peter Senge

Many a management manual is built around case studies and data analysis. But the epiphany that grew into this book came to Peter Senge one morning while meditating. Senge, who founded the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, developed five essential disciplines of a true “learning organization,” which is one that continually improves (and stays competitive) by helping its members learn. The first four disciplines focus on developing individual focus, building a shared vision, and communicating as a team. But the heart of the book is the Fifth Discipline, called “systems thinking,” which involves analyzing the organization’s complex system of relationships and removing obstacles to true learning.

9.  First, Break All the Rules (1999), by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

First, Break All the Rules encourages managers to personalize and break away from traditional, one-size-fits-all leadership techniques. Gallup consultants Buckingham and Coffman pull responses from more than 80,000 interviews to determine that the best managers are “revolutionaries” who cast the right people for the right roles — and leave them to do their best work. Among the tome’s other takeaways: Treat employees like individuals, set specific outcomes, but not the process, and focus on employee strengths instead of calling out weaknesses.

10.  The Goal (1984), by Eliyahu Goldratt.

The Goal is unusual among business management books for at least two reasons. First, Goldratt wasn’t a titan of industry, a b-school professor, or even a consultant, but rather a physicist. Second, The Goal is a novel. Centered on a production manager named Alex Rogo who has three months to turn around a deficient, unprofitable manufacturing plant, The Goal explains the “Theory of Constraints,” which among other points incorporates the idiom, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link;” and focuses on bottlenecks, the great hindrances to productivity. Rogo uses the Socratic method to help fix his marriage, then applies it to his plant crew, coming up with steps to solve the plant’s problems. The Goal has been in print since 1984, and a revised third edition was released on the book’s 20th anniversary. So does Rogo achieve his goal? You’ll have to read it to find out.

11.  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (2001), by Jim Collins.

How does a company go from being merely successful to sustaining profits over long periods? That’s the central question of Jim Collins’ book, a deeply-researched analysis that starts with all 1,400 companies on the Fortune 500 since 1965 and narrows the list to 11 companies that sustained excellence over time — often by going against accepted industry wisdom. Companies like Fannie Mae (ahem), Gillette, Kroger and Wells Fargo have what Collins discovered to be seven characteristics that contributed to their success, including a culture of discipline, finding the right employees and harnessing technology in the most efficient ways possible.

12.  Guerilla Marketing (1984), by Jay Conrad Levinson.

In the same way that guerilla warfare changed how people thought about war and conflict, Jay Conrad Levinson’s concept of guerrilla marketing reshaped how small companies think about promoting themselves. Before Levinson coined the term in the 1980s, companies often relied upon huge, expensive marketing endeavors. Smaller companies struggled to compete on those terms, so Levinson argued for using brains over brawn. Don’t hang a banner to advertise a sale; give away products on the street. Don’t place expensive ads; pull a PR stunt for free publicity. Twenty-five years later, empires have been built using these ideas.

13.  How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), by Dale Carnegie.

The author described himself as a “simple country boy” from Missouri, and to be sure, some of the advice in his blockbuster best seller is pure cornpone (“If you want to gather honey, don’t kick over the beehive”). But Dale Carnegie was a wizard when it came to making the public like him. Besides buying more than 30 million copies worldwide of his Depression-era book, they broke down the doors of his educational programs, which also promised professional success and happiness. Carnegie’s plain-spoken wisdom about how to advance career-wise still resonates with a sophisticated urban workforce. Perhaps that is because he was no hick when it came to understanding business behavior: “About 15 percent of one’s financial success is due to one’s technical knowledge and about 85 percent is due…to personality and the ability to lead people.”

14.  The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), by Douglas McGregor.

Before Douglas McGregor’s seminal work on management, employees were often presumed to be lazy and unmotivated. As a result, conventional wisdom held, management must goad workers into becoming productive cogs in the machine. McGregor revolutionized human resources thinking by positing two ways managers could view employees: Theory X assumes workers are inherently lazy; Theory Y assumes they are self-motivated. While not clearly on the side of Theory Y, McGregor seems to lean toward the idea that management should ultimately set the workplace conditions to allow people to not only do well at work, but to want to do well

15. The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997), by Clayton Christensen.

Unlike most business books, The Innovator’s Dilemma is about failure. Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen takes a look at why large, once successful companies with seemingly talented CEOs regularly falter or, worse, go bust. Christensen’s take is that in business success does not breed success. In fact, it’s the opposite. Large dominant companies often are blind to emerging technologies or changing market trends that will make their once-innovative products obsolete. The lesson: Adapt early and often, even if it costs you profits today.

16.  Leading Change (1996), by John P Kotter.

In business, change is perpetual and necessary. Companies that fail to adapt fail, period. So driving transformation is arguably the business leader’s primary objective — and yet woefully few succeed. Kotter’s 1996 book details an intuitive, eight-stage process, each illustrated with examples drawn from his extensive consulting experience, for implementing real and lasting organizational change. As important as the practical tips, however, is the powerful distinction Kotter draws between managing change and leading change. As Kotter vividly demonstrates, only the latter can keep a company a step ahead.

17.  On Becoming a Leader (1989), by Warren Bennis.

Leadership guru Warren Bennis’s guide to honing your inner leader tends to read more like a self-help book than a business tutorial. Bennis’s now classic take on the leadership conundrum calls the dearth of effective leaders a “societal disease” characterized by shortsighted thinking and a lack of self-awareness. The proposed solution? Pointers include honing your “inner voice,” cultivating a passion for what you do, and building trust among followers.

18.  Out of the Crisis (1982), by W. Edwards Deming.

This is the book that first articulated (without using the term) Total Quality Management, the now-ubiquitous idea that the quality of products and services, and their continuous improvement, is the responsibility of a broad range of corporate stakeholders, from managers and workers to suppliers and even customers. Deming is widely credited (along with Taiichi Ohno) with introducing systematic quality measurement and improvement techniques to Japanese manufacturing in the 1960s, and Out of the Crisis brought his revolutionary ideas to U.S. businesses. The 14 key management principles enumerated in the book directly contradicted many standard practices of the era — including production quotas, “zero defect” slogans, and management by inspection — and became a template for modern management techniques.

19.  My Years with General Motors (1964), by Alfred P. Sloan Jr.

The author, the CEO of GM from 1923-1946, was an industry titan who led the Detroit carmaker to become the largest corporation in the world. Publication of this forthright book was blocked for years by GM’s lawyers, who feared its revelations about the inside-workings of the company would be used against it in litigation. Sloan’s shrewd lessons about managing the automotive behemoth, from corporate structure to product development to finance, are still considered a business-school must-read. “A car for every purse and purpose,” indeed.

20.  The One Minute Manager (1982), by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.

This slim volume, with its simple (critics argued, simple-minded) business homilies, immediately became a worldwide publishing phenomenon, and spent more than two years on the New York Times best sellers list. In it, would-be effective managers are advised to “catch an employee doing something right,” and to reinforce that good behaviour with a One Minute Praising. Bad deeds are similarly to be pointed out and punished with a One Minute Reprimand. The authors themselves were accused of a bad deed by the Wall Street Journal — plagiarism, to be exact — which they denied. But by that time, the tiny tome was ubiquitous, having been distributed by FORTUNE 500 companies everywhere.

21.  Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (1993), by James Champy and Michael Hammer.

Adam Smith’s business dictums from the 1800s no longer apply. That’s the thinking behind management consultants James Champy and Michael Hammer’s 1994 best seller. Rigid divisions of labor — which once sped up productivity in fledgling corporate America — was now driving the sluggishness and lack of creativity holding firms back, the authors contend. They advocate for a radical redesign of the way companies process and organize their business, including regrouping multiple jobs into one. No wonder the book is credited with inspiring corporate downsizing in the 1990s. In the digital age, its insights still ring true.

22.  The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People (1989), by Stephen R. Covey.

Stephen Covey’s leadership training book is widely recognized as one of the best-selling business books of all time. That’s funny, because there is very little in it about business or management. Instead, the book is a tour de force on confidence building packaged into seven easily digestible maxims. There is good advice throughout that could help you in your professional life, but that wasn’t among Covey’s obvious intentions. The fact that the seven “habits” overlap and aren’t all that revelatory — No. 2 boils down to focusing on your goals — hasn’t seemed to blunt the book’s continuing popularity.

23.  The Six Sigma Way: How GE, Motorola and other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance (2000), by Peter S. Pande, Robert P. Neuman and Roland R. Cavanagh.

Before Six Sigma became a cultural punch line — 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy is a green belt master — it was the gold standard in management philosophy. Developed in the 1970s and 1980s at Motorola and GE, Six Sigma-ites believe that the path to success is paved by near constant measurement of the performance of your company and workers. Instant feedback is the key. The Six Sigma Way, published in 2000 and co-written by Six Sigma guru Peter Pande, brought the management technique to the masses. The book draws heavily on the experiences of GE and other companies that successfully implemented the technique.

24.  Toyota Production System (1988), by Taiichi Ohno.

After World War II, Taiichi Ohno, an engineer at Toyota, began experimenting with the assembly lines at the Japanese firm’s automobile factories. His goal was to improve efficiency and catch up with America’s Big Three. The result of Ohno’s tinkering changed the manufacturing industry forever. Ohno and his managers devised the Toyota Production System, more broadly known as “lean manufacturing,” which gave Toyota a huge edge in productivity and quality control. The new system ensured Toyota’s position as an industry leader, and its principles were adopted within factories across sectors and countries. This little gem of a book outlines Ohno’s quest and provides insights into the crucial process of innovation that are valuable for managers of all types.

25.  Who Moved My Cheese? (1998), by Spencer Johnson.

This slender work, a parable of mice and (little) men in a maze, can be read in 30 minutes, max. Its message is simple: Embrace change because it is inevitable. Nonetheless, there is a cult of Cheese, composed of readers (some of them CEOs) who extol the virtues of this book and say that it has changed their lives and workplaces. Truckloads of books have been handed out by top executives who hope to make their employees more flexible than Hem, the intransigent character who bellows the title line when faced with changed circumstances. The book also has its share of detractors, in the form of parodies with names like “Who Cut the Cheese?” But Johnson, also the co-author of The One Minute Manager, is undoubtedly laughing all the way to the bank; Cheese is the best selling business book of all time, with more than 20 million copies sold.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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Innovation is About Adopting Something New!

As public services managers struggle to maintain service standards while dealing with the double whammy of government cuts and heightened customer expectations, innovation is often presented as the panacea.  For example, the recent open public services white paper places innovation at its core, mentioning innovation 26 times.  But although the emphasis on innovation isn’t new, the context in which public services operate is changing rapidly.  There is energy, like there has never been energy before, towards reaching a consensus that the public sector must improve significantly and quickly.  So maybe now is the time to move ‘innovation’ beyond rhetoric and towards action.  Just because we hold creative workshops involving flipcharts and post-it notes, this doesn’t mean we’re being innovative.  Innovation requires the adoption of something new.

I don’t wish to be disloyal to the many public services colleagues with whom I work, but generally the public sector isn’t known for its dynamic innovative culture. The recent ‘Catching The Wave’ report on local authority innovation, funded by Nesta and the Local Government Group, found that although there was significant will among local authorities to innovate, there were serious questions about their ability to turn this will into action.

Indications that an organization is innovative, such as adaptation and step changes in process reform, have not traditionally been commonplace within the public sector.  So is it realistic to expect the public sector to invest in these areas now, in times of scarcity?

So what’s the answer … or at least a contribution to the answer?

On a practical level, the following five indicators form an acid test of your organization’s current approach to innovation.  You might find it useful to mark each on a scale of 1 to 10:

  1. Leadership and investment: Are senior directors demonstrating their commitment to innovate with ring-fenced money as well as modelling innovation in their own behaviours?
  2. Learning and reflection: Are resources being made available to both build new skills and pay for time to reflect on what is and isn’t working?
  3. Networks: Is there a coordinated effort being directed towards creating internal networks to build organizational and individual capacity, along with external networks to share best practice?
  4. Flexibility and reactivity: Are projects aimed at embracing challenges to current approaches effectively scheduled and followed through?
  5. Risk taking: Is a climate of appropriate and intelligent risk management an essential part of learning and improvement?  Is there an authentic and visible acceptance that some failure is inevitable – In other words, is progress being made in the spirit of ‘informed experiment’?

I think we are all familiar with the rhetoric of transformation, but some of us have yet to engage with the reality of the disruption such transformation inevitably entails.  For example, announcing a service closure or a transformation to a new commissioning model will create disruption, but the key is to be responsive and flexible in helping people invent and create high quality alternatives.  Central to the success of transformation is to expect, plan for, and make the most out of disruption.

These reflections were inspired by an article by Richard Wilson, published by Guardian Professional.  See   http://bit.ly/rfkhIS   if you are interested in the primary source.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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Turning around negative attitudes – the line manager’s perspective

Turning around negative attitudes – the line manager’s perspective

People demonstrate their negative attitudes in many different ways, but here are some general coping strategies.

  • Recognize that an attitude problem exists.
    The first step is to recognize that someone is expressing negativity in the workplace. Do not ignore it if it is affecting that person’s performance, your performance, the performance of others or relationships with your clients or customers.
  • Acknowledge any underlying causes for the negative attitude.
    As we know, negativity has many causes. The factors could include personal problems, work-related stress, a difficult boss, job insecurity, loss of loyalty, lack of growth or advancement opportunities and so forth. It helps to get the person to see the causes for their negativity. Ask honest but non-threatening questions of colleagues like, “You look stressed. Is there anything I can do?” It is also important to recognize that what is causing the negativity is often justified and that the person showing the negativity has the right to feel that way.
  • Help the person take responsibility.

It is ultimately the responsibility of the person expressing negativity to change their negative attitude and behaviours at work. Even though the person may have every right to feel the way they do, it is still not appropriate for the workplace. As a line manager, you need to help your colleague recognize this and to have them take ownership. Address the problem privately with them in a way that demonstrates concern for both their problems and the well-being of the team.

  • Replace negative, inappropriate reactions with different, more acceptable ones.
    Even though I just said that it is the job of the person expressing negativity to change their actions, you may need to help. They may not know what to do differently to come across as more positive. It will often be up to you to specify exactly what that is. You can suggest that other people aren’t aware of the person’s other (positive) qualities or that their contributions are being eclipsed by the negative behaviour.
  • Instill positive attitudes in others.
    Be the role model for the person expressing negativity through your actions and behaviours. You can prevent their negativity by instilling in them a positive attitude. If you do that, they may never catch the negative bug again.

Most of all, it’s important to start a dialogue with colleagues that are behaving in a difficult way so that issues can be addressed.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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Turning around negative attitudes – the organizational perspective

Turning around negative attitudes – the organizational perspective

At one time or another, organizations develop an over-abundance of “negative energy”.  Sometimes this can be linked to organizational trauma such as down-sizing, budget restraints or workload increases, but sometimes it evolves over time with no apparent triggering event.  The ‘negative organization’ is characterized by increased complaining, a focus on the reasons why things can’t be done, and what seems to be a lack of hope that things will get better.  It feels like the organization in stuck in mud!  And, it’s contagious.  Negativity will affect even the most positive employees.  But here are some actions that can help.

  • Ensure the management team models positive behaviour

It is obvious that if management is adopting a negative stance and using negative language, staff will follow.  Don’t allow the management team to do it!  Ensure it takes an explicitly positive approach with staff by showing confidence in their abilities.   Expect a lot, support staff, hold them accountable, confront them and be clear and honest.  Have the management team set standards for their work and relations with employees and ensure they set an example of positive behaviour.

  • Acknowledge negativity

An organization can’t ignore negativity and expect it to go away.  If it does not acknowledge it, then staff will feel that the managers are out of touch, and will not be confident in their abilities.  Managers should acknowledge frustration and negative feelings, and not try to convince people that they  shouldn’t have their negative feelings.  However, when acknowledging employees’ negative feelings, there needs to be a mechanism for asking for suggestions regarding what to do about them.

  • Identify the ‘positives’ in all situations

Sometimes we forget to find positives.  When an employee makes an impractical solution, we are quick to dismiss the idea. Managers should be identifying efforts while positively discussing people’s ideas.  Small victories should be sought and talked about.  Turning a negative organization into a positive one is a result of multitude of small actions.

  • Provide positive recognition – often

The management team should provide positive recognition as soon as, and whenever, good performance is identified.  And positive strokes recognition should not be coupled with suggestions for improvement.  Separate them.  Combining them devalues the recognition for many people.

  • Refrain from collusion on negativity

It is easy for managers to get caught in the general complaining and bitching, particularly in informal discussions.  When faced with negative conversations, managers might consider changing the subject, commenting directly on the negative content or ask plainly what can be done about the situation (move from negative to positive slant).

It is not uncommon for organizations to go through periods of negativity.   Management teams play important roles in determining if that negativity will increase, or whether the trough is relatively short.  Above all, it is important to remember that it is the little things that are done, day in and day out, that make the difference.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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Effective Partnership Working – Getting the basics right from start to finish

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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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

Establishing trust

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

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.

Financial management

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.

Do …

  • 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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Organization Development – 3.5 The competencies of the effective practitioner

3.5    The competencies of the effective practitioner

It would be overly ambitious to attempt a comprehensive review of the competencies of the OD practitioner.  Rather, what follows are a few pointers that may stimulate thinking around what it takes to be effective.

  1. Familiarity with current thinking and application
  2. Psychological maturity
  3. Sensitivity in listening and observing
  4. Awareness of personal impact on others
  5. Technical background derived from training with an experienced practitioner
  6. Knowledge of both large- and small-system change strategies and creativity in adapting them to felt needs
  7. Ability to express oneself simply and clearly
  8. Ability to confront and be confronted
  9. Ability to demonstrate confidence without being arrogant
  10. Willingness to take risks

These guidelines, along with others you may find researched in the literature or establish for yourself from your own experience, can form the basis for continuing professional development.

My website contains further resources that may be of interest …


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