The skills to partner and get results

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As more and more organisations embrace cross sector partnering to enable their collective impact or shared value initiatives, the focus is turning to how we can get best results from this type of collaboration? And how do we build the capability and skills of those involved in cross sector partnering quickly?

Partnering of any type is not easy. Cross sector partnering where we are seeking transformational change is even harder as we have to work with many different partners and stakeholders, all with their different views and expectations.

Given that every partnering context is unique and all the partners are likely to have different expectations of what they want to achieve, this increases the complexity even more.

When people first come together as potential partners they are likely to have different experiences of partnering and they can be very uncertain about just how to proceed. They may also be unclear about just what authority and permission they have to make decisions on behalf of their organisation, especially if there have been no internal conversations about how the organisation should partner.

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

Our experience in this field has shown that the required key skills include:

  • Relationships 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 discussion but to then focus 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.

In 2009 we recognised that there was a lack of short course partnering skills professional development programs available in Australia and globally. As a result we developed the Partnering Essentials™ suite of half, one day and two day programs to support people who were in or about to enter into some form of cross sector partnering. The result to date has been over 100 programs delivered with 1600+ participants from all sectors attending these programs over the last 10 years.

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 by diving into solutions too early and not establish the groundwork required for a strong partnership to be developed and to then deliver results.

Ian DixonComment