The history of successful partnerships proves the adage that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Consider Lewis and Clark, who helped open a vast, uncharted frontier for an ambitious, infant nation 200 years ago. Or Rogers and Hammerstein, whose musical theater collaboration has rarely been matched.
The beauty of good partnerships is that they expand resources, influence, potential and results. Simply put, good partnerships produce good results, whether they are forged between solo entrepreneurs, between departments within a company or between any imaginable configuration of individuals, programs, organizations or initiatives.
At a 1996 summit sponsored by the Drucker Foundation, leaders of all persuasions agreed that the challenges facing government, business, nonprofit organizations and society as a whole are too great to be addressed by any one sector. All leaders, to succeed, must build bridges, they said.
But such collaborations don’t just happen. To be sure, people can find themselves thrown together to get a particular job done or partnering with another out of convenience. Such partnerships, however, can produce as many problems as solutions.
For partnerships to be productive, the partners must be compatible in vision, approach and work processes; they must know how to communicate with each other, when to stand firm on an issue, and when to compromise. The participants must share risks and responsibilities, and treat each other fairly. This kind of relationship fosters trust, which in turn, is the foundation of a successful endeavor.
Productive partnerships take many forms, from informal collaborations and alliances to formal partner agreements. Internet technologies also facilitate easy-to-track affiliate relationships and offer potential for building effective partnerships anywhere in the world.
In any case, the objective is mutual benefit, for the benefit of customers of both entities. A few examples:
- A web designer in Ohio, for example, partnered with a brand development firm in Singapore to offer additional services and value to clients of both.
- A natural science museum in Texas partnered with its local public television station to produce and distribute educational programming via satellite.
- A medical center in Illinois collaborated with a bilingual youth radio station to promote wellness messages to Latino youth.
- Successful entrepreneurs partnered with business coaches and a university in California seeking to attract students and increase its visibility and reputation to offer a three-day boot camp for new small business owners.
Beginning the Process
Before partnering with another individual, business or department, it is crucial to be clear on your ideas and visions. What do you want to achieve, and are you certain you cannot (or do not want to) provide that yourself with current resources and know-how?
Depending on your need, you may wish to start your search for the right partner locally, with such organizations as the Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Rotary International and the local Small Business Administration office. Leveraging social media sites such as LinkedIn can also be a great.
The Drucker Foundation partnership summit delineated some of the following principles of good partnership:
Partners must understand not only the values, goals, and constraints of the partnership itself but also the values, goals, and constraints of the other partners. It’s not enough to ask, “How do we accomplish our agenda?” You must also ask, “How do we help our partners accomplish their agenda?”
Partnerships must translate broad goals into measurable, interim targets and time frames. All partners must be committed to the shared mission and objectives before taking the first step. Goals must be attainable but meaningful.
Different issues require different types of partnerships. Some are appropriately initiated by businesses and entrepreneurs, while others are more appropriately initiated by the social sector or government. Openness to the project’s leadership needs is key. Equal partnership is the goal.
Partnerships rely not just on the clarity of mission but also on a mutual understanding of partners’ roles. Unless there is agreement in the beginning about the definition of success and expected results trouble is likely.
Other Factors Influencing Partnership Success
Even the best laid plans must be adapted to shifting conditions, altered needs and preferences, experience of what isn’t working, emerging opportunities and fresh thinking to improve outcomes. Partnerships are no different and clearly evolve in response to successes and partner’s needs. Productive partnerships also include:
- Committed staff and program champions
- Mutual respect, understanding, and trust
- Members see collaboration as in their self-interest
- Ability to compromise
- Can-do attitude
- Members share a stake in both process and outcome
- Flexibility and adaptability
- Open and frequent communication
- Sufficient funds, staff, materials and time
- Review of both disappointments and achievements
- An exit strategy in place at the outset
- Encouragement to explore boundaries and to grow partnership
The bottom line: To see your business grow, consider building productive partnerships.
Author’s content used under license, © 2013 Claire Communications