Building Partnering Capability


As more and more organisations embrace cross sector partnering to solve complex issues or tough challenges, the focus is turning to how we can get the best results from this type of collaboration?  One essential ingredient which is often overlooked is building partnering capability within partnering organisations. 

By capability we mean having people within partner organisations who have a clear understanding of when to partner, what type of partnering is needed and how to do it effectively. Currently very few organisations have actually taken the time to think about what partnering means to them, how they should engage with others and whether they have the knowledge and skills within their organisation to partner effectively.

Instead there is this huge assumption that everyone can partner and people should just be able to go and do it, even though very few people have had training in the knowledge and skills to partner. This is particularly true with cross sector partnering where people are expected to work outside of the boundaries of their own organisation often with little guidance or understanding on how their organisation views partnering.

Building capability to partner is becoming even more critical as cross sector partnering becomes mainstream and is becoming a high priority within organisations globally as they strive to maximise impact from complex partnering initiatives. 

This partnering capability needs to be consistent across all partners if the initiative is to reach its full potential. If only one partner has the knowledge and skills to partner then the partnering process will be lop sided and the power will rest with the more knowledgeable and skilled partner. Empowering all partners with the knowledge and skills to partner enables a faster process and a better return on investment.

Knowledge of partnering..

Having a consistent understanding of cross sector partnering language and approaches within your organisation is essential. Selecting the right partnering approach in any given context, resulting in the maximum value creation but staying within the capacity of your organisation is a challenge. While many organisations have embarked on partnering initiatives with other organisations, few have developed clear and consistent partnering frameworks for their own organisation. 

Developing an organisation-wide framework for cross sector partnering enables the selection of the most appropriate level of partnering for a given situation and maximises the opportunity for getting results. Several years ago AnglicareSA embarked on a just such an initiative that resulted in a Partnering Framework for their organisation and was linked to skills training and the development of specific tools to assist their staff in partnering projects. A key element of their approach was the need to embed these principles and processes across their organisation

While cross sector partnering is specific to a particular context there are some simple frameworks and models that can be applied to help people navigate their way through the partnering maze. Knowing what questions to ask at the different stages of the partnering process is also a key skill that needs to be developed.

The skills to partner …

So how can we equip people to create and develop partnerships that deliver results and impacts? And what critical skills are needed to achieve this?

Our list of required key skills include:

  • Relationship Skills - The ability to engage effectively with others - to build trust and respect in their relationships so that there is a solid foundation to the partnership
  • Navigation Skills - to be able to chart a path through the complex set of relationships that take place in a partnership whilst still achieving balance in all areas
  • Reflective Skills - being able to step back to see the whole picture and then knowing what actions to take at any time in the process
  • Negotiation Skills - focussing on interest based negotiation to gain agreement and to resolve conflicts that arise
  • Questioning Skills - knowing what questions to ask at what time to move the process forward and to seek better outcomes
  • Focussing Skills - being able to facilitate exploratory discussions but to then focus in and gain agreement to a way forward

The important point about these skills is the subtlety and sophistication at how they are used as you progress through a partnering process. And it goes without saying that these skills have to be grounded on a solid foundation of knowledge around the partnering process and the various tools and frameworks that can assist partners to work together in new ways.

While these skills are critical to effective partnering there still needs to be an acknowledgment by many organisations that specific partnering skills training is an essential requirement for high performing partnerships.

Preparing to partner…

Investment in skilling potential partners up front with some understanding and knowledge around the 'how to' of partnering is crucial. Otherwise the risk is that people will start diving into solutions too early and not establish the groundwork required for a strong partnership to be developed and to then deliver results.

Our new online Partnering Essentials™ modules hosted by CQ University can provide an ideal way to quickly and easily acquire some foundational knowledge. The ‘Introduction to Cross Sector Partnering’ course which consists of three separate 2 hour modules on the why, what and how of cross sector partnering is well suited to people who are about to start working in partnering arrangements or as an induction program for new staff in partner organisations.

Getting Lift Off

Building the knowledge and skills within partnering organisations will continue to be a necessity as we seek to achieve the maximum potential from cross sector partnering. One useful metaphor for effective partnering is to look at each partner coming to the table as the blade of a helicopter. To get lift off we need all blades to be strong and have the same capability to spin and provide lift. If we have only one strong blade (partner) and several weak ones we will see endless spinning but no movement!!

If you are looking to build your partnering capability then some key questions to ask are:

  • Have we discussed what partnering means to us?
  • How we may want to partner with others?
  • What do we know about partnering processes?
  • What partnering knowledge, skills and experience do we have in our organisation?
  • Do we need a partnering framework for our organisation?
  • What capability do our potential partners have?

These are just a few check questions for you to assess for your organisation and your partners to see if you can achieve high impact partnering.

Ian DixonComment