The last decade has seen a boom in the use of partnership working as a means to achieving aims and objectives. Or at least if you read the press releases, web sites and other literature it has. But are all of these organisations really successfully working in partnership with others or are they applying the term to more traditional relationships, such as simply buying in services, because it sounds better than saying ‘working with our contractors’ or ‘working with people we pay to do a job’?
As always with these things the answer is not black and white for defining the term ‘partnership working’ is not quite as simple as a couple of lines in a dictionary. Yet, taking the time to understand what partnership working is and the levels at which it can be utilised can help organisations to get a lot more out of their existing and their future relationships.
In order to gain that understanding it is important to realise that partnership working takes place on a number of different levels or degrees. It is understanding these degrees of partnership working which will help you to identify at what level your ‘partnership’ is working and, importantly, whether by strengthening the partnership by raising it a level might help you and your partner(s) to better achieve your goals.
There are five degrees of partnership working which run from token or nominal partnerships through to pure partnerships. For example, if I was to pay you to do a job for me we might describe that as a partnership even if I have absolutely no interest in your own aims, only that you do the job for me.
This is frequently seen in areas which are funded by Government or Local Authorities. They will fund an organisation on the basis of that organisation achieving their targets often with little interest in whether the funded organisation has any targets of their own. The word sustainable is often attached to these ‘partnerships’ when in reality that sustainability is a myth because the funded organisation has little interest in continuing the funded work when the money runs out. Sustainability will be the topic of a future blog.
So what is this hierarchy of partnership working, the five degrees which define whether your partnership is a token one, a pure one or some half way house?
The first degree is ‘Co-Existence’. The two (or more) partners have agreed to work ‘together’ but haven’t figured how, don’t really care about each other’s aims and end up adopting a stance of “you stay on your turf and I’ll stay on mine.” Fine if you are paying someone to do a specific job and you aren’t interested in a longer term relationship (is that good business practice?) but not so good if either partner is hoping for more either now or in the future. The word ‘partnership’ might be applied but, as partnerships go, this is about as token as it gets.
The second degree is ‘Co-Operation’. At this level, the partners have agreed to work together but identify each other’s goals as very low priority, frequently because either the partnership is a mismatch or because staff are not fully versed on its importance. The key description phrase of the second degree of partnership working is; “I’ll lend you a hand, but only when my own work is done.”
It is at the third degree of partnership working that we start seeing genuine partnerships emerge. This stage is ‘Co-Ordinaton’. This is first stage at which proper consideration is given to the work and objectives of each partner. If you are involved in strategic planning and wish to avoid getting trapped into silo mentality planning, you should be aiming for at least this level of partnership working not just externally but internally too. Key descriptive phrase? “We need to adjust what we do to avoid overlap and confusion.”
The fourth degree is ‘Collaboration’. At this stage real thought is now being given to achieving success for all parties within the partnership. It is also at this level that good examples start to become more rare and yet if the partnership was entered into with the aim of mutually benefitting from each other’s skills, products, abilities (or whatever), it is only really at this level that successful, long-term partnerships are built and maintained. “Let’s all work on this together” describes this tier perfectly.
The fifth degree of partnership working is where we find pure partnerships; this stage can be termed ‘Co-Ownership’. By taking on ownership of each other’s wants and needs, aims and objectives we effectively increase our chances of success by multiplying the numbers addressing our own targets and by also adopting our partners. It is very rare to see this level of partnership working in operation and yet it can produce fantastic results, especially in those sectors where the workforce is either low or unpaid or where motivation and/or enthusiasm are low. Key phrase? “We all feel totally responsible.”
So next time you are thinking of adopting a partnership approach to solving a problem or achieving a target, give consideration to the degrees of partnership working. By embracing pure partnership working at tier four and especially tier five, you will be pleasantly surprised by the results. On the other hand, if you employ the token partnership working of tier one or two, don’t be surprised if not everyone in the ‘partnership’ comes with you and it becomes much harder work than you had hoped.
© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited 2010