The diagram below illustrates the collective journey of the partnership through engagement and formation to the point of partnering agreement. It highlights the central joint pathway that identified potential partners will take collectively in developing the partnership, as well as the individual organisational journeys each partner must take to be confident and ready to partner (here we talk about Partner A and Partner B but of course there may be multiple partners).
It is when the partnership pathway, and the individual partner journeys converge that an agreement can be made and the partnership can move into the action phase.
This journey – which can take anywhere from two to eighteen months depending on the complexity of the partnership – represents a gradual shift from ‘talking’ to ‘doing’.
Partnership development pathway
The development pathway usually involves a series of meetings over time in which partners gradually develop, negotiate and shape the partnership, starting wide (agreeing an overall vision) and understanding the resources they are able to bring to the issue, and then focussing down to get more and more specific and detailed (the exact objectives, activities, commitments, roles and responsibilities of each of the partners).
The plan should evolve iteratively, bringing in additional partners where there are gaps in resources.
Depending on the complexity of the partnership and the number of partners, the meetings may involve anything from bi-lateral discussions, to major multi-stakeholder dialogues requiring the support of a partnership facilitator*
Setting out at the beginning the clear process, along with an agreed set of principles and expected behaviours when partnering will significantly smooth and speed the partnership formation.
If well managed, the development process should involve ratcheting up the quality of relationship, engagement, commitment and agreement among the partners over time, maximising the creation of value and putting in place the Building Blocks of effective partnerships.
Individual partner journeys
Each partner must complete its own internal journey to get to a point where it is ready to commit to the partnership. This might include, for example:
Interplay between organisational and partnership journeys
For an organisation’s partnership representative, the development of the partnership will necessarily be a complex interplay between the external negotiation with the partners, and the internal negotiation within their own organisation, as represented by the arrows in the diagram.
Experience suggests that, proportionally, more time and effort is spent on internal negotiations within organisations, than in discussions with partners. So if you find yourself spending a lot of time focussed ‘internally’, it should not come as a surprise. These internal discussions – or approaches to navigating internal politics – will vary according to your internal organisational culture and decision-making processes.
In the best case, you will be able to demonstrate very strong alignment between your organisation’s strategic objectives and those identified by the partnership. In this case, significant organisational resources will become available to you in order to help make the partnership a success.
Taking a systematic approach
Appreciating that the pace of the individual partner journeys often slows down the partnership development, we recommend all partners to take a systematic approach to navigate and accelerate their own journeys, for example through the use of TPI’s internal prospective partnership assessment. This tool allows an organisation to continuously assess where they are along their partnership journey and what specific issues (eg risks, internal commitment, due diligence) still needs to be resolved, as well as quickly identifying deal breakers that mean a partnership should not take place.
If all partners use the tool, they can compare notes and clearly see where they all stand at each partnership meetings, and support each other in helping to move faster along their journeys.
In many cases, where the case for partnering is overwhelming or there is a reason for urgency, it may be entirely appropriate not to wait for all partners to have completed their organisational journeys, or for the partnership to have completed its development pathway, and instead to simply get going and start delivering together. This does not mean that the journeys can be ignored, that the Building Blocks do not need to be put in place, or that a partnership agreement is not required. But rather that they can be completed at the same time as the partnership is delivering in earnest – building the plane while flying it.
Indeed, in general it is important not to end up overdesigning partnerships, but better to start small, learn from the experiences of working together, and then design the scale of activities.