“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is management guru Peter Drucker’s most famous quote. Nowhere is this truer than in partnerships.
Partnerships involve working across organizations and sectors, and adapting to diverse approaches and styles: the people side of the partnership equation, the “soft stuff”. But the soft stuff is always the hard stuff. If care and attention is not given to the “partners”, relationships, productivity and project results will suffer, no matter how aligned the project goals are.
So, how do you build a culture and mindset of partnership?
What is a partnership culture?
A partnership culture is a collection of perceptions about a partnership formed by its every communication, action and interaction. It’s what the veterans tell the new kids. It’s what the partners say about the partnership in private. In short, it’s what makes your partnership unique and is the sum of the partnership’s values, interactions, behaviours, and attitudes. And a culture exists in your partnership, whether it is defined or not!
Partnership cultures can be LCD Cultures (Least Common Denominator) that are determined by what partner do, say and how they act. These cultures are accidental at best, and both fragile and fluid. They break easily and take the shape based on individual partner’s interests and/or the dominant partner.
And then there are Intentional Partnership Cultures. This happens when partners take the time to identify what the core values and principles of their partnership are. They then work every day to make sure every partner member personifies them. They also “check and adjust”, assuring that their culture is achieving the desired results – helping them deliver project results as well as build strong relationships between the partners that make a difference.
A partnership culture is its DNA and creating one takes work and commitment. The best partnerships build culture with intention. This will inspire a culture and mindset of collaboration, which is critical as it is as important as project strategy.
4 steps to building a strong culture of partnership
Create the intentional culture you want by jointly defining the core principles, values and behaviours that will be at the heart of the desired culture. The best partnerships are co-created and co-managed, and they establish values and principles that matter. The Partnership Brokers Association defines five key principles that help establish a culture of true partnership and collaboration.
Value Diversity: A commitment to exploring each others’ motivation, values and underlying interests will build understanding and appreciation of the added value that comes from diversity.
Create Equity: Equity is built by truly respecting the views, attributes and contributions of all those involved.
Ensure Openness: Partnerships quickly get stuck where there are (or are perceived to be) hidden agendas or intentional secrecy.
Build Mutual Benefit: Agreeing to explore and build on the added value of collaboration and understanding the right of all partners to gain from their engagement in the partnership is an important starting point to build commitment to the shared goals.
Be Courageous: Even a well planned and prepared partnership has many unknowns in relation to the complex issues it seeks to address. They require partners to be bold rather than tentative if they are to achieve breakthrough results.
Defining your culture is one thing, but making sure it sticks requires integrating it into every aspect of how your partnership works – from how the partnership is governed, to how it communicates, and to how projects and activities are undertaken. The culture must be lived by how each partner acts, talks and behaves.
Make sure your culture is carefully communicated and shared with current and new partners as they join in. This may see obvious, but you do have to tell and remind your partners what the culture is. New partners may think that the way they do things at their own organizations is best so they need to be aligned around the partners’ approach. Communicate the what, the why, and how you intend to work together to achieve both the partners’ common and individual goals.
4. Model and Motivate
Everyone in the partnership, especially the leaders, must model the expected culture and its associated behaviours. If they don’t there is little chance partners will get the culture they want. Showing is so much better than telling. And that means leaving the door open for partners who see contrary behaviour of partners to call it out when they see it. That alone is a significant cultural change for many partnerships.
It's going to take commitment
Four things - sounds easy, right? But partnership brokers and leaders need to make sure partners understand how the culture is exemplified in behaviours, and reward and recognize when people are demonstrating those behaviours. And it's not just for the first three months. It's forever. Build out performance objectives and make sure that the objectives contain a measure related to the desired behaviours.
If your partnership does not have the culture you want, then you must create it yourself. The key is to create a culture and mindset of collaboration that wins praise from your partners. This is the one that is intentionally created and sustained.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.