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DBA VIEW OF ISSUES IMPORTANT TO WORKING IN PARTNERSHIP WITH A CLIENT


We have considerable experience of working within a partnership approach with a range of Public and Private Sector Organizations. That and other experience gained, for example, in my national role with the Distributive Industry Training Board and on earlier DBA projects, has provided valuable insights on a range of aspects related to successful partnership working and joint delivery of identified outputs.

The brief strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis below summarizes many of the issues which we believe impact on the establishment and maintenance of an effective partnership. No attempt has been made at this point to prioritise issues or to locate them with either or both partners. Further explanation follows:

 

Strengths

  • Synergy of two organizations
  • Value of two view points
  • Focused contributions
  • Playing to individual strengths
  • Value of the expertise and experience of both parties
  • Clearly defined and shared responsibilities
  • Time to build real trust and good relationships

Weaknesses

  • Effect of differing work ethics or different ethos
  • Possibility of misunderstanding
  • Potential cultural differences
  • Time needed to build trust and working relationships
  • Mismatched expectations
  • Possibility of different values and ethos between partners
  • Unreasonable or unvoiced expectations
  • Potential for personality/ego clashes

 

Opportunities

  • Growth and learning for both parties and all individuals
  • Transfer of expertise and knowledge
  • Benefiting from previous similar work done by either party
  • Project participation as part of planned development
  • Mutual rights and responsibilities
  • Achieving more than either partner could alone

Threats

  • Lack of clear policies and ground rules for working together and lack of clarity on required outputs
  • Collapse of ‘outside’ partner’s business
  • Familiarity leading to too much comfort and a lack of challenge
  • Constraints imposed by formal structure
  • Changes in key personnel in either partner at key points
  • Lack of access to key individuals when needed
  • Difficulties raised by conflicting priorities
  • Not enough work materialising to maintain commitment
  • Going over budget


In our view, the issue of an effective Partnership which produces results needs to be considered under three headings:

  • establishing the Partnership approach
  • maintaining the relationship
  • ensuring that the expected outputs are delivered on time, within budget and to quality specification.

 

Establishing the Partnership approach


At this stage it is, in our experience, vital that both parties put time and effort into:

  • agreeing the basis of the partnership and the expected contribution of each partner
  • discussing and agreeing the rights and responsibilities which the partnership confers on both parties
  • exploring the opportunities and benefits which the partnership approach offers for both parties
  • allowing key personnel in both parties to get to know one another and to learn about and appreciate each others’ skills, experience and knowledge
  • discussing and designing appropriate ground rules for the relationship, for working together, for communication methods/channels/frequency
  • determining how problems or the unexpected will be dealt with
  • planning for personal and organizational growth and learning expected to result from the partnership
  • defining the areas of operation where the external partner can offer most/best support
  • exploring potential risks and how they are to be managed.

 

Risks at this stage include:

  • failing to explore prejudices, perceptions and values
  • lack of clarity on objectives/outputs needed
  • presumption or assumption that certain roles/responsibilities and actions are automatically the province of one partner or the other
  • failure to allow time for relationship building
  • lack of experience in either party of working in this way
  • differing values and work approaches between key personnel in the two parties
  • lack of clarity on how the two parties will work together and/or on how each is to offer feedback to the other on contributions, achievement and problems.

 

Constraints at this stage include:

  • organizational requirements, legislative implications, Government requirements
  • budgets (finance and time) available may not cover unexpected but necessary work
  • time available for exploration and discussion may not be sufficient
  • any immediate demands requiring urgent resolution/solution
  • any suspicion or prejudices brought to the arena by either party mitigating against clear, open communication.
  • In our experience time and effort expended at this stage to clarify and reach real agreement on the key issues is repaid many times as the partnership progresses. A strong foundation reduces problems, increases goodwill and motivates both parties to extra effort if circumstances require it. Such a foundation allows learning and development to result for those involved.

 

Maintaining the Relationship

At this stage key issues include:

  • good communication – frequency, quality, timing, channels and responsibility
  • joint focus on output rather than quibbles about inputs, methods and approaches
  • minimizing constraints and playing to peoples’ strengths
  • celebrating successes and giving feedback on achievement
  • producing and agreeing sound, achievable project plans, with responsibilities for each project or area of work. These will need to be adjusted to cope with extra demands
  • identifying and discussing problems, difficulties and the unexpected at the earliest possible stage
  • honesty and trust leading to an absence of meddling and repressive controls
  • good, appropriate and timely monitoring of achievements, budgets and outputs
  • maintaining, as far as possible, continuity of key personnel on projects or ensuring good ‘handovers’
  • ‘protecting’ work being carried out from unreasonable extra demands and interference
  • ensuring that all learning and development opportunities are grasped and benefited from
  • keeping people motivated to give of their best
  • avoiding over-dependency and over-familiarity
  • identifying and planning for risks and contingencies.

 

Risks at this stage include:

  • organizational constraints impacting on plans, approaches and the good will of key personnel
  • poor day-to-day control
  • lack of flexibility to react/respond to changes and new demands
  • over rigid interpretations of systems/policies
  • losing key personnel and needing time to create new working relationships
  • agendas and issues in the target population.
  • Constraints at this stage include:
    other work demands on individuals in both parties
  • conflicting demands and priorities
  • budget limits
  • skill and knowledge of individuals
  • time demands and achieving necessary deadlines.

Delivering the Expected Outputs


If the necessary investment of time and thought is expended at the first stage, both parties will know what they are working together to achieve and will have explored the values and behaviours required for effective partnership working. Ground rules and agreed working methods will be in place for joint working.

Project plans will need to be jointly agreed and individuals will need to commit to their required inputs and contribution. Monitoring and reporting methods and schedules will need to be carefully carried out and problems spotted early on so that corrective action can be taken speedily.

Risks attendant on delivery of expected output include:

  • serious and unpredictable changes e.g. government requirements, business demands/changes, national or local emergencies
  • loss of key personnel
  • lack of access to key people at the required point
  • individuals not carrying out their part of the necessary work through loss of motivation or being diverted by other priorities
  • unexpected re-work time required because of senior management intervention or other unexpected requirements
  • problems leading to either/both parties adopting entrenched or adversarial attitudes
  • part of allocated budgets being taken for other purposes
  • work-based problems clouding participants.

Constraints on delivery are mainly those resulting from the risks identified above.

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