Partnering Tip: 'No Surprises'


One of the greatest challenges in partnering is to build and maintain trust. Ensuring there are ‘no surprises’ when engaging with your partners is a crucial part of this trust building process. But how can we make sure this happens and that all communication is open and transparent?

Some years ago I was involved in a major partnering initiative where one of the partners representing an industry group had a change of personnel. The President, CEO and Senior Policy Officer all left the organisation within a short timeframe and were duly replaced. What resulted was a change of policy internally regarding support for the partnering initiative, however, this was not communicated to the other partners for quite some time. 

The other partners had assumed that all would continue as before. When finally this change of direction was announced it came as a complete ‘surprise’ to the other partners. It set the process back many months and nearly derailed the entire initiative.

What we can learn from this example and many others like it is that we need to try and ensure there are ‘no surprises’ between partners. We need to get all the issues out on the table in a timely manner where they can be dealt with appropriately. All communication needs to be open and honest with transparency being maintained throughout the partnering process. It is only through this transparency that we can build a foundation of trust that is essential for an effective partnering processes.

While it may be easy to say ‘no surprises’– it can be difficult to maintain this intent over the long term. Putting some agreed strategies in place gives us the best chance of limiting these surprises. Some possible strategies for partners could be to:

Hold regular discussions:

  • Having face to face meetings at regular intervals enables partner representatives to get all the issues out on the table. In this way the meetings serve as a ‘clearing house’ so that all partners are brought up to date on key issues.

  • There is no substitute for face to face discussions, with open and honest conversations between the partners, that help to build trust.

 Build buy-in within each partner

  • Having strong levels of engagement, commitment and shared ownership within each of the partners will help stop any hidden agendas from occurring. Hidden agendas are the enemy of trust and can derail partnering processes very quickly.

 Set up communication protocols

  • This ensures clarity around who should be the key contacts in each partner organisation for specific issues.

  • The clearer the communication channels the less likely there are to be surprises as everyone is kept up to date and in the loop on key issues/changes etc.

  • Another aspect in communication is ensuring that everyone is brought along together and not left behind in the process – some organisations will take more time to process issues and to make decisions – knowing these constraints will assist in having that open dialogue. 

 Hold annual reviews

  • In addition to meeting regularly schedule an annual review where partners can take a step back from the operational tasks and assess how they are working together.

Saying it as it is – be authentic

  • One of the toughest challenges in partnering is creating the safe space for conversations to take place, especially if one of the partners is a key funding body on whom other partners rely on for survival

  • Being able to talk openly and honestly with no fear about the consequences really ensures that everyone is on the same page and there is less likely to be some surprise pop up some months down the track

Making sure there are ‘no surprises’ can be difficult when working within a large complex partnering process but if this topic is discussed and strategies agreed by all partners there will be a greater chance of you having a successful partnering process that delivers impact.