Partnerships are growing across Canada, as we recognize the value of collaboration to address complex social issues. But sadly, “partnership” has become a blanket phrase to describe many “business as usual” relationships. As a result, it is beginning to lose its true meaning. This is especially disillusioning when the term ‘partnership’ is used as a pacifier, to disguise the real challenges and struggles of collaborating meaningfully.
Here are ten signs you’re in a true partnership, NOT just another traditional funder relationship.
1. Partnerships share the rewards AND the risks
The Oxford Dictionary defines partnership as an “ongoing relationship, where risks and rewards are shared”. Many so-called “partnerships” do not share or want to share risks.
2. Partnerships are abiding relationships grounded in mutual benefit
The most successful partnerships manage to draw partners in and ensure that every partner achieves not only the partnership goals but their own goals and objectives. By creating mutual benefits, alliances can offer access to new expertise, relationships and assets that increase credibility, capacity and capital. With mutual benefits, engagement and commitment are built.
3. Partnerships are based on equity. Equity does not imply equality
Equity requires all partners to be valued and engaged and their contributions respected. Building equity is critical, since power imbalance is often cited as a real challenge in a partnership. Relationships shift when power is shared.
4. Partnerships thrive on trust.
Open, honest communications and fully disclosed agendas among partners build trust in a partnership that can then thrive.
5. Partnerships celebrate the diversity of the partners
There is a tendency to try and minimize differences and focus on what those involved have in common, rather than what makes them different, in an attempt to avoid conflict. This presupposes that differences = divergence and seriously risks partnerships being developed at a superficial level with everyone remaining in their respective comfort zones. This approach will most likely not maximize the opportunity to build on diversity (of values, culture, key skills, approaches, potential contributions etc.).For effective partnering, it is important to help partners really get to know and understand each other to be able to relish and build on diversity.
6. Partnerships co-create their projects & programs
This is a critical difference between funding relationships, often rebadged as partnerships, and genuine partnership. By working together to design and co-create the project and programs, partners use each other’s strengths and assets to build something where the sum is greater than its individual parts.
7. Partnerships share a common purpose AND help partners achieve individual goals
A shared vision and common purpose bring partners together but what makes a true partnership is supporting and helping each other achieve individual goals.
8. Partnerships have all partners contribute resources
There are many different types of contributions and yet often it is only financial contributions that are considered valuable. Resources brought by each partner can include knowledge, connections, credibility and/or human resource support. That every partner contributes and is valued for their contributions is central to a successful partnership.
9. Partnerships embrace mutual accountability
Partners are compelled to deliver on their commitments, knowing their actions impact others and the success of the partnership as well as the partnership project.
10. Partnerships take a principled approach to their work
Partners find new ways to work together based on a mutual commitment to equity, openness and mutual benefit that celebrates and builds on individual organizations’ diverse strengths and assets.
Let’s use the word “Partnership” with intent
It is disillusioning to have business as usual rebranded as partnership. As my Australia-based Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) colleague, Yeshe Smith adds, “We also do the concept a disservice when we describe it in ways that are only meaningful in the NGO and civil society sector. Talking about ‘walking together’ or ‘sharing a journey’ makes it easy for people to dismiss real partnership as a soft, largely rhetorical exercise, which can be achieved if we are good people with good intentions.”
I believe in the power of partnership as the only way forward to deal with the complex problems of the 21st century. But let’s start using the word with the same level of care and attention required to make them a success.
About the Author
Jocelyne Daw is a leading expert in authentic cross-sector partnerships and integration, collaboration and social innovation. She is an Accredited Partnership Broker, Authorized Partnership Trainer and an internationally published author and speaker. She works with leading organizations to design innovative and measurable community strategies and partnerships that creates sustainable value and impact.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.