When looking at the need for increased collaboration and partnering, together with the potential opportunities it will enable in a post COVID world, it is clear that we will need to be able to partner faster and better in the future. We will not have time for long winded and complex partnering processes but rather will need to find ways to fast-track relationships and produce outcomes quicker. Below we set out some simple, practical tips that organizations can take to help them to get action quickly and effectively.
Tip 1: Clarify your challenges and purpose
Since partnering is not always the easiest or most effective solution to address simple problems, it is important to first clearly identify upcoming challenges your organization is facing and what resources (financial, knowledge, market access, networks, etc.) you are missing. If the problem is more complex than you feel you can address internally or with a transactional arrangement, then you need to be specific on the challenge that a partnership would address. And part of this internal review should also reveal what strengths and assets your organization possesses that you believe partners would find valuable and you would bring to the table.
In moving from problem to purpose, you will want to develop a simple objective statement, or concept, clarifying the high-level goal for the partnership to achieve, that potential partners would align with (or adjust). While this phrase can take many different forms, one model worth considering is to complete the following: “By doing _____, this partnership or collaboration will help______ with ______, leading to ______.”
For example, “By bringing together a public utility, a water technology company, and a donor program, the Water Efficiency partnership allows new-market entry for (Company), and helps reduce non-revenue water, which improves water quality for over 8,000 people, and creates savings for the utility.” Although the order of the components may vary, the statement should identify what the partnership will do, who you will work with (partners and beneficiaries), and what you hope to achieve.
While articulating such a concept within your organization is a great, quick way to get the partnering process started, the final statement often involves much back and forth among potential partners to ensure everyone is aligned before embarking on the partnering journey. Remember that throughout this negotiation process, it is important for each organization to be honest, reasonable and transparent on what you want, what you can offer, and be willing to say ‘no’ swiftly (and even remove yourself from the partnership) so others may carry on quickly and transform ideas into action.
Tips 2: Expand your circle of trust and seek out new partners
Establishing a strong foundation of trust will be crucial to the delivery of any partnership, especially when the going gets tough and you need a highly trusted relationship to fall back on. Building and maintaining this level of trust quickly will require being open and transparent when first engaging with potential partners. Sharing as much information as you can will ensure a level of confidence and eliminate any concern about hidden agendas.
As trust is critical to successful partnering, we often tend to partner with organisations we know well or have worked with before. This can be extremely limiting as partnering with ‘unlikely partners’ can open the door to a whole new range of opportunities, resources and contributions. By expanding your circle of trust and engaging with other organizations in the context of day-to-day operations, this will enable you to then come together quickly and effectively when a partnering opportunity arises.
One technique for doing this is to fan out sufficiently to develop this circle of trust before focusing in on a specific partnering opportunity. It is all about broadening your networks and leveraging existing relationships to see who may be missing and who else could contribute. This approach can be used quite simply to ensure you expand your thinking and gain diversity of potential partners. The first step is to look within your own company and networks (such as Boards of Directors, supply chain, etc.) to see how you could leverage your existing trust relationships. Next look across your industry sector (including Business Associations/ Chambers of Commerce etc.) to see how you might work differently with organizations you are familiar with and finally, go beyond your sector to other industries that might be facing the same challenges and seek out more diverse actors.
Tip 3: Prepare and simplify internal processes
When a partnering opportunity presents itself, you need to be ‘fit for partnering’. Getting prepared internally by establishing simple processes to support any future partnering will ensure you can get started quickly. Some key areas to focus on include:
- Delegation – ensuring that those who will be involved in the partnership formation and implementation have the appropriate delegations to act and make decisions when needed. This may require streamlining approval processes and increasing authority levels.
- Buy in – making sure processes are in place so that all levels of the organisation will be clear on the purpose and intent of any partnering and can be fully supportive.
- Increased risk tolerance – effective partnering requires taking risks so that new innovative ideas and approaches can be fully explored. Controlling the processes too tightly will restrict this innovation and creativity.
- Partnership coordination – look to set up a small team that could provide support to any partnering initiative to keep driving actions.
- Pre-approval from legal – if you have requirements for your legal team to be involved – explore how you might get appropriate pre-approvals for any agreements.
- Create internal champions – to drive the internal actions needed, such as: managing deadlines; assigning responsibilities; tracking milestone accomplishments as well as acting as key contacts with other partners.
Being proactive and preparing for partnering internally will enable faster entry and progress with other partners.
Tip 4: Implement a staged delivery approach
The idea of spending many months to scope and build a partnership before implementing it across multiple years in order to achieve grand business/development goals can be daunting and undoable for many. While this careful nurturing and negotiating among partners develops the key building blocks to ensure long-term impact and success, there can be an easier way to implement an effective partnership, but through a less overwhelming, staged delivery approach.
Initially, partners can start small by agreeing on specific, reasonable (and measurable) deliverables for the partnership within a set time window (for example quarterly at 90 days or 100-day windows). Then, at the close of each stage, members evaluate progress and processes for the partnership as a whole and each organization individually. This rolling cycle allows the partnership to adapt to necessary mid-course corrections more easily, to stay focused on 3-5 targets that need to be achieved in the short-term (accumulating to achieve the partnership purpose) and to re-evaluate the overall direction and relationship among partners.
As noted earlier in Tip 2, the partnership can also rotate its lead champion to share the burden and benefits among partners equitably. And finally, this approach fosters a prototyping atmosphere more conducive in times of uncertainty where organizations may opt-out or new one’s add-in as needed verses feeling locked into a committed 2-3-year partnership.
Partnerships do not have to take months to develop and years to implement but can and actually be done simply, quickly and effectively. If we are going to fully capture the opportunities from new forms of partnering in a new COVID adapting world, we will need to RAISE THE BAR in how we work together. We will need to explore new approaches and be proactive in preparing our organisations for partnering and in designing how we come together with others through practical actions and outcomes.
TPI Blogs are written by TPI colleagues, close partners and Associates and are shared to help build dialogue about fostering collaboration and building partnerships, in practice. TPI advocates for the use of cross sector partnerships globally. The views and opinions expressed in the blogs do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TPI as an organisation or it’s associated personnel.