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Collaborative Working

Some questions to ask yourself about partnership

Asking questions – of yourself and of the people you are  working collaboratively with – is one of the best ways to get valuable insights about what is and isn’t working, and to come up with small, but often powerful steps that you can take to increase the effectiveness of your joint work.  Here are some quick questions for you to consider, whether you are setting up a new venture, or are part of an existing partnership. For more practical tips on working collaboratively, click here (pdf).

What’s the best way to set up a new partnership?

Whilst it is true that no effective partnership can be created in a matter of weeks, it certainly needn’t take years to get to something that is really working. If done well, the earliest stages of partnership set up will pay dividends, and conversely, a poor set up process can be very hard to overcome, often leading to inherently weak partnerships and collaborations. These questions assume that your organization is the one that is seeking to set up, or to ‘lead’ a partnership.

  • Have you done work within your own organisation to:
    • flush out what priorities you want to pursue via the partnership ?
    • what existing relationships and projects are already in place?
    • establish the level of real motivation and interest, eg at senior levels, to work collaboratively on this project?
    • Have you thought about why other organisations might want to work with you, ie what’s in it for them?
    • Have you approached the most likely organisations informally, to sound them out and understand more about their context and needs?
    • Have you planned out a simple set up process, which includes dealing with fact of some organisations and stakeholders simply not being interested in working with you?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all these questions, then you are on track to have a constructive set up process. If not, you might benefit from a bit more thinking and planning.

Is your partnership really a partnership?

Many groupings and projects are called ‘partnerships’, but are in fact something quite different – for example, a consultative group, a forum, or something that tried to be a partnership or used to be one, but is no longer. Answer these questions to get an idea of how much of ‘real’ partnership you are in.

  • Does the partnership lead group regularly take decisions that have impacts in the real world eg on the allocation of resources, or on organisational priorities and actions?
  • Has the partnership ever had disagreements or dealt with conflict?
  • Are the relevant people in the respective organisations that form the partnership, fully aware of what the partnership is doing, and how it contributes to their own organisations’ outcomes?
  • Is there a  shared feeling that everyone at the table is there for good reason ie they each bring something that is clear to everyone else at the table?

If you have answered ‘no’ to some of these questions, the chances are that your partnership is some way of being fully mature. The characteristics noted in the questions, including being able to surface and deal with conflict, are all hallmarks of an effective, functioning partnership.

If your answer was ‘yes’ to all the questions, congratulations, you have a robust, functioning partnership!

What’s your partnership trying to achieve?

Think about a partnership or collaborative group that you are part of:

  • Can you describe, in unambiguous, plain English, exactly what results on the ground (outcomes) your group is trying to achieve?
  • Do you think all of your collaborators would give exactly the same answer and if not, why not?
  • When was the last time your group reviewed and re-agreed what it is trying to achieve, as opposed to what it is planning to do?

If your answers suggest that your group does not have a clear, shared understanding of what it is there to achieve, in terms of outcomes, or that it is quite a while since you had that discussion, then suggest that the group does revisit and re-agree the changes it is trying to achieve on the ground.

If your answer was ‘yes’ to all the questions, congratulations, you have a robust, functioning partnership!

Is your partnership or collaboration working effectively and efficiently?

Learning and agreeing how to get things done in a collaborative setting can be quite difficult and requires discussion, openness to different ways of working and agreement on how things will be done. These questions are designed to help you think about how effectively your collaborative or partnership group is at getting things done.

  • Do people on the partnership and their organisational colleagues, do real work on partnership business, in between the meetings?
  • Are your partnership meetings well planned and well run, so that discussion and agreements can happen easily, and the agenda is fit for purpose?
  • Do you have a partnership work plan that sets out how you are going to work together to achieve your agreed aims?
  • Do you produce and receive well written, accessible and timely material that helps your shared understanding of issues and to focus on what you most need to talk about /decide on?

If you have answered ‘no’ to some of these questions, the chances are that your partnership is not working as efficiently or effectively as it could be. Good partnerships are built on solid, quality background support and real work, not just talking shop meetings. Talk to your partners about ways in which you might take small steps to improve how you work.

If your answer was ‘yes’ to all the questions, congratulations, you have a robust, functioning partnership!