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Steps to Building a Collaborative Partnership

Good collaborative relationships are initially created by routine interactions between organizations both on and off campus. It is through these interactions that potential partners learn about one another, identify each others expertise and interests and begin to build the essential foundation of trust and respect for one another. It is also through these experiences organizations begin to identify potential candidates for partnership when the need for collaboration arises. Good community-campus partnerships are intentional, with a focus on “careful preparation, excellent implementation and meticulous follow through”, as well as evaluation of results.

The following building blocks take you through the necessary steps to build an effective and sustaining collaborative partnership.

Step 1: Determine the Need and Readiness

Is there a need for collaboration?

Consider:

  • Do we need other people/organizations to achieve a goal/support our students
  • Does this need require other on-campus, off-campus and/or external organizations?
  • What is the “added value” in partnering?
  • What benefits will be gained in collaborating?
  • What will the partnership be achieving?

Is there already a collaboration elsewhere doing something similar?

Consider:

  • Has research been done if other collaborative work being done in this area?
  • If so, have you considered opening up a discussion with them about the possibility of becoming part of their partnership arrangement and potentially avoiding duplication of services/work?
  • If not feasible, have you talked to them about their experiences and lessons learned as a useful tool in setting up a collaboration?

Is there commitment within your campus to support a partnership?

Consider:

  • Have you identified potential partners to approach as to the possibility of collaborating?
  • What additional expertise or benefits would the partner organization bring?
  • Is this being supported at the appropriate level of management (correct work???) on your campus?

Adapted from Partnerships:  Frameworks for Working Together.  Strengthening NonProfits: A Capacity Builders Resource Library

RESOURCES:

The Partnership Toolkit: Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • What Kind of Partner Do You Want? – p. 24
  • Are You Ready to Partner? A Self-Assessment Tool – p. 25
Step 2: Recruit the Right People and Organizations
  • Start discussions with potential partners

Consider:

  • Who should be involved in this collaboration and why?
  • How many people/organizations should be involved?
  • What level of involvement is needed?
  • Are there any issues or past history that need to be addressed before partnering?
  • Is there an element of trust between each partner?
  • What would each bring to the table that would be beneficial and complementary to a partnership?

 

  • Gather all potential partners together for discussion about elements of the collaboration

Consider:

  • What is the main objectives of collaborating?
  • At what level and function is the relationship (advisory, networking, service collaboration, joint working group, project-based, etc.)?
  • What is our shared vision and goals?
  • Who will take the lead?
  • What governance structure and accountability arrangements need to be put in place?
  • Do all members agree to these procedures?

 

  • Get commitment for proceeding from those agreeing to partner

Consider:

  • Is the purpose of the collaboration clear with a genuine shared vision and goals identified?
  • What will be the initial time commitment for the collaboration to achieve their aims?
  • Is there consensus on what each organization is agreeing to in the collaboration?

(It can be helpful at this stage to develop a clear written statement outlining what has been agreed to in the discussions… such as commitments, who will take the lead, main objectives, vison and goals, partnership structure and function, responsibilities and accountability arrangements to date…and then share with potential partners)

  • Is it a Win-Win relationship for all…are all members satisfied for the benefits they will be receiving and giving?
  • Are there monies or resources to maintain and sustain the collaboration…does additional funding need to be sought out?

Adapted from Partnerships:  Frameworks for Working Together.  Strengthening NonProfits: A Capacity Builders Resource Library

 

RESOURCES:

The Partnership Toolkit:  Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • Develop a Partner Profile p. 26
  • How Do You Identify New Partners p. 27-29
  • Partnership Rating Chart p. 31-35
Step 3: Assess Resources Needed
  • Identify the skills and competences needed to manage and support the collaboration

Consider:

  • What individual and/or organizational skills and resources are needed to be successful in this venture (human resource, financial, technical, others)?
  • What can be leveraged from each organization to fulfill those needs (tangible and intangible)?
  • How will this be funded or resources realigned?
  • Who are potential leaders and staff champions to actively advocate and support the work?
  • What training might be needed for individual staff or organizations?
  • To whom are staff accountable?
  • Are there additional resources to support the collaboration itself?

 

  • Identify any barriers that might be a risk to success for the collaboration
  • Is the collaboration congruent with policies and procedures of all partners
  • Have ground rules and norms for communication been established?
  • Are all members committed to open, honest and transparent conversations? How do you know this?

RESOURCES:

Building Cross-sector Collaboration

Collaboration Toolkit – A United Way Toronto Toolkit

  • Rules of Engagement p. 32 (Generating a List of Ground Rules, Ground Rule Strategies)
Step 4: Determine Structure of the Collaborative Partnership

Ensure there is clarity among partners as to the mission, values and principles that will guide the collaborative partnership

Consider:

  • Is there a stated shared vision?
  • Has a mission statement been devised (how the collaboration will achieve their vision)?
  • Are there guiding principles for the collaborative partnership agreed upon by members

Set out the processes needed to manage and sustain the partnership

Consider:

  • What will be the governance structure for the collaboration and have the roles and responsibilities of all member organizations been defined and agreed upon?
  • What shared or allocated resources have been agreed upon and how funded/realigned?
  • How will the work get done and what structure is needed to ensure this happens (steering committee, advisory group, executive committee with work groups)?
  • When, where and how will partners meet and who are the key people needed for meetings?
  • Is there an agreed process as to the timeline of the partnership in terms of change, renewal and ending?
  • Is there an accepted decision making process?
  • Who is the accountable individual(s) or champion in each organization for this collaboration?
  • Have accountabilities, roles and responsibilities for lead organization (if applicable) and member partners been specified and is the reporting structure clear?
  • To whom will the partnership report and is there a process in place to report on progress?
  • Is there a process to resolve conflicts in a fair and productive manner?
  • Have guidelines/ground rules for participation been established and agreed upon?
  • How will intellectual property be determined, identified and used?

Ensure a formal written agreement incorporating the above has been developed and signed by all partners.

Consider:

  • Are there any unresolved issues that need to be addressed before signing?
  • Does the collaboration require a simple or more formal agreement?

Which format best meets your need?  ( See examples of Letter of Agreement, Service Collaboration Agreement, Memorandum of Understanding, under “Resources and Tools”)

 

RESOURCES:

Collaboration Toolkit – A United Way Toronto Toolkit

  • Creating a Vision and Mission p. 36
  • Developing Guiding Principles p. 37
  • Resolving Conflicts pgs 53-55
  • Holding Effective Meetings pgs 70-72
  • Developing a Memorandum of Understanding for Collaborations pgs 76-77
  • Partnership Agreement Template pgs 78-80

Participating Effectively as a Collaborative Partner

  • Building Trust and Managing Conflict pgs. 47-48 – Keys to Success
  • Conflict Resolution – Process Steps p. 49
  • Collaboration Agreement Template (formal) pgs 30-34 and Sample Agreement (simple) pgs. 35-36

The Partnership Toolkit:  Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • Resolving Conflict – Chapter 16 pgs 97-103
  • A Model Partnership Agreement – p. 63
Step 5: Develop a Communication Strategy

Set up an effective communication plan between partners

Consider:

  • What is the overall purpose for communicating and what does the partnership hope to achieve?
  • Identify who is responsible for communication between partners?
  • What type of information needs to be shared, with whom and how often?
  • What needs to be documented, what and how will it be shared?
  • Are there additional funds and/or resources needed?
  • Does the plan ensure consistent, transparent and timely communication?

Get consensus on the means and methods that will be used to communicate

Consider:

  • What types of methods are available for communication and what would work best in this initiative?
  • Any technologies needed to do this successfully?
  • Is any training needed for staff to use effectively?
  • Are communication systems compatible among partner organizations?
  • What information needs to be protected according to (NAME OF BODY) and how will the partner member ensure its protection?

RESOURCES:

The Partnership Toolkit:  Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • The Importance of Effective Communication in a Partnership, p. 80
  • Tips for Ensuring an Effective Internal Formal Communications Plan, pg. 81
  • How to Develop an Internal Communications Plan, pgs. 82-83
Step 6: Agree on and Develop an Action Plan

Develop an Action Plan to meet goals/objectives of collaborative partnership

Consider:

  • Have benchmarks been established…where we are now (the baseline) and what we need to achieve (the objective)?
  • What steps have to be taken to reach these objectives?
  • What is the desired timeline for how long it is likely to take?
  • Who will be responsible for seeing the action task is successfully completed?
  • What resources are needed?
  • Has the scope of the collaboration been identified…which activities are inside the scope of the initiative and which activities are outside of it?
  • What is the indicator (measurable outcome) to know the goal has been achieved?
  • Has a plan been developed to evaluate the collaboration?
  • Is there a plan in place for sustaining the partnership?

Review the objectives to determine if they are S.M.A.R.T.+C

  • Specific
  • Measurable (at least potentially)
  • Achievable
  • Relevant/Realistic (to the mission)
  • Timed (date for attainment)
  • Challenging (requiring extraordinary effort)

 

(See “Resources and Tools” for an action plan template)

RESOURCES:

Assessing Your Collaboration:  A Self Evaluation Tool

Collaboration and Partnerships for Healthy Communities

Community Tool Box

The Partnership Toolkit:  Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • Evaluation – Section 18 pgs. 108-114 (Basic Evaluation Questions; Steps in Planning the Evaluation)
Step 7: Identify Risk Factors for the Collaboration

Make a list with partners as to potential risks to the collaboration

Consider:

  • What risks might be involved in setting up and starting the collaborative partnership?
  • What risks might be involved in organizing the partnership?
  • What risks might be involved in meeting the timelines for the collaboration?
  • What risks might be involved in meeting the objectives of the collaboration?
  • What risks might be involved in not having all the resources/funding needed to manage the partnership?
  • Are there any liability issues (insurance, collective agreements, funding obligations, legal situations, confidentiality requirements, intellectual property)?
  • Are there any other risks to consider?

Be proactive in developing strategies to deal with the risks

Consider:

  • Have the partners concurred on methods to deal with the risks (accepting, transferring, mitigating or eliminating the risk)?
  • Have specific steps been decided upon to address?

RESOURCES:

The Partnering Initiative

Harvard Business Review, Dec. 11, 2011 – Eight Dangers of Collaboration

Knowhow Nonprofit – Benefits and Risks of Collaborative Working 

Step 8: Create an Open Environment

Identify factors which create and build trust

Consider:

  • What are behaviours that contribute to trust and good relationships between partners?
  • Is there mutual accountability built into the processes of the collaboration?
  • Is there expectation for self-interest disclosure and is this practiced?
  • Is the group open to diverse thinking and alternative ways of working
  • Is diversity training available for support, if needed?
  • Does the group look at conflict as an opportunity for collaborative discussion, problem solving and growth?
  • Are all members respectful of the established, agreed upon ground rules?

Identify factors which cultivate and support equality and diversity

  • Is the group sensitive to cultural practices?
  • Is the group cognizant of how personal and organizational power can impact a collaboration and is it openly acknowledged and dealt with if conflicts should arise from use of power?
  • Does the group operate with a no-judgment attitude where members feel comfortable with diverse perspectives?
  • Is there a culture where conflict and “turf” issues are seen as an opportunity for collaborative discussion and problem-solving?
  • Is conflict in general acknowledged and dealt with openly and without favoritism?

 

RESOURCES:

Building Cross-Sector Collaboration – The Tension of Turf: Making It Work for the Coalition

 

PROACTIVELY PLAN FOR CHANGE

Have a plan in place for reflection, renewal, managing change and closure of collaboration

Consider:

  • Was a date set for the initial time length of the collaboration?
  • Is there a mechanism in place for renewal of the agreement?
  • Is there a process for leaving the partnership before termination date?
  • Is there a process for terminating the partnerships and what actions need to be taken?
  • Is there a process to measure, manage and control change throughout the term of the partnership?
  • Have the partners had a period of reflection on their experience with the collaboration…what worked and what didn’t, lessons learned and has this been documented?
  • Has the collaboration used this input as well as evaluations to determine if initiative is worth renewing, if anything needs to change in order to continue or have objectives been met and work is now complete?

Continually evaluate the partnership based on the initial goals and action plan set out in the partnership agreement and readjust if necessary

  • What are the costs versus benefits of the partnership?
  • Is the partnership achieving what it is meant to achieve?
  • Have the goals changed/evolved and need to be amended?
  • What’s missing/ can be improved upon?
  • Are all parties abiding by the terms laid out in the agreement?

RESOURCES:

The Partnership Toolkit:  Tools for Building and Sustaining Partnerships

  • Dissolving Partnerships Honourably – Section 17 pgs. 104- 108

Participating Effectively  as a Collaborative Partner – A United Way Toronto Toolkit

  • Leaving Or Terminating A Collaboration pgs 50-52
Step 9: Celebrate Successes

After all your hard work, remember the value of celebrating your success with the entire team involved in your collaboration. Celebrating accomplishments fosters the great alliances you have created and it can also promote future successes for new and innovative partnerships.

For more information, check out this skill-building curriculum on sustaining partnerships.