If you want to get academic about it, we could talk about the different types of partnerships that exist and what they all mean. Labels like collaborations, integrations, alliances and even funding relationships are all meant to signify a distribution of power and responsibility between two or more groups. The truth is, while clearly defined roles and expectations are an important part of a successful partnership, using the most accurate jargon to define it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is on the same page or has the same expectations.
In my experience, successful partnerships are the ones with the strongest dose of common sense. That doesn’t mean that they just magically work well—far from it! For example, as a member of a Rotary Club, I volunteered to lead a new fundraising effort for the Club. It was a wine and food pairing dinner, something I am not familiar with, but I was up for the challenge of meeting with chefs and representatives from the liquor commission to eat amazing food and pretend I could tell which wine made it taste better.
The Secret Sauce
What made our event a success was our careful selection of a partner. We wanted to ensure the new event could raise money to help our community, so our goal was to find a partner that would help make the event a hit, had a track record of successful partnerships and met the Club’s criteria for receiving funding. I’m proud to say that the partnership with the local family resource centre is now 10 years strong thanks to some thoughtful foundational planning.
I suggest keeping these four things in mind when you’re considering entering into a partnership:
- Make sure your potential partnership is mutually beneficial. Ask yourself if there is an opportunity for everyone to benefit. If there isn’t, that means you’re asking for favours and, chances are, your future “partner” will see it that way as well. Don’t be someone who asks for favors unless you’re doing them a favour too. It never turns out the way you intend it to.
- Adopt a first-date mentality. Expecting others to be just like you often leads to disappointment—or even worse. Make sure you really make the effort to get to know the group you are partnering with. For example, what is their culture like? What is their work style? Are you reaching for similar goals?
- Take roll call. When you come together as a group ask yourselves, “Is there anyone else who should be here?” The next time you meet, ask it again. You never want to have too many groups involved because it can be pretty scary to manage; however, you should never sell your partnership short. If there’s someone who can contribute, bring them in! Chances are you’ll all benefit when the groups at the table jive well together.
- Be a student. A healthy partnership promotes learning. More often than not, the learning is the value-add for one of the partners. On the flip side, if you’ve been partnering with a group for a period of time and can’t look around to see evidence of their influence on your work, you’re probably missing a huge opportunity for improvement.
These steps aren’t the ultimate guidebook to successful partnerships but it’s a solid place to start when you’re framing your relationship with another group. It’s always exciting to bring new partners into your master plans but when everyone knows what the parameters of your sandbox are, it’s much easier to build the coolest castle.