What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

SiG Note: A version of this post was published on Think Thrice on March 28, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 

The social innovation community is acutely aware that our toughest societal challenges cannot be solved in siloes. Cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaboration is needed to tackle such complex problems.

ContentImage-18-252448-partneryogaA growing understanding of this need for deep collaboration is amplifying the urgency for individuals skilled at bridging, building and brokering partnerships.

Mary Pickering is one of these individuals. Mary is an accredited member of the Partnership Brokers Association (via PBA in London, UK) and the VP of Partnerships at Toronto Atmospheric Fund (an innovation unit embedded within the Toronto municipal government). She has and continues to broker large scale partnerships that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto (by 80% by 2050, no small task!).

I was fortunate to participate in a workshop led by Mary on partnership brokering; below are my top take-aways around contracts, money and forces.

On the exit plan // CONTRACTS ARE USEFUL FOR THE PROCESS

Drawing up a letter of intent, contract, or, in the case of a romantic partnership, a prenuptial agreement, is helpful because it forces us to go through the motions of discussing what assets exist, what our strengths are and how we can be fair with each other.

However, if the partnership gets to the point where this agreement needs to be used, it often means a deeper betrayal occurred at some point and this issue(s) needs to be resolved before the partnership can be resumed.

Predicting all possible scenarios in advance is practically impossible, but thinking through and deciding together how to address and resolve conflicts before they arise makes it possible to be logical about what is the best and most fair outcome, without emotion getting in the way.

Contracts are a useful tool in partnership as they enable parties to be up-front about expectations — particularly those to do with succession and exit planning — during the early stages of the partnership, ushering partners to together create a shared understanding and vision of what defines success.

On power imbalances // MONEY DOESN’T EQUAL SKIN IN THE GAME

Contributing money doesn’t equal true ‘buy-in’ because one’s value of money is weighted by how much money one has.

Mary explains that one of the fundamentals of true partnerships is that each party contributes, and incurs risk, by agreeing to engage. However, with agreements where power is imbalanced, such as those between investor and entrepreneur or music label and musician, it can be difficult to decipher whether an offer to engage is a transaction or a partnership. The intention of the engagement and level of commitment is the difference between a transaction (purely a business exchange, short-term in nature, and often a one-time deal) and a partnership (founded on reciprocity, cooperation and mutual growth, and often long-term).

These semantics are important because they have very different implications when things don’t go according to plan. And they never do. Simply bringing money to the table does not guarantee commitment, so being upfront about power is a step closer to neutralizing imbalances.

On nurturing relationships // FORCES ARE WORKING AGAINST THE PARTNERSHIP

Forming partnerships can be hard enough but, once formed, there are also forces working to pull them apart. Personal responsibilities, job requirements and navigating hiccups across projects all compete for our mental-bandwidth, limiting the attention we can give to nurturing partnerships. Much like an untended garden that becomes overrun with weeds over time, unmaintained partnerships can take you backwards by growing once small nuisances into much larger issues or creating strain on relationships. Partnerships, like living organisms, need ongoing TLC to thrive.

Partnerships are crucial for getting big things done. Getting smart about how we think about, participate in, see and lead partnerships will help us move the dial on some of our more intractable social problems.

For more information about the process Mary describes and how you can be trained as a certified Partnership Broker, visit the Partnership Brokers Association website or register for the upcoming Toronto Partnership Brokers Training (Oct 27-30, 2014).

Social Enterprise Spotlight: Building Capacity for Partnerships

Ros Tennyson has been in the business of partnerships for over 20 years. In her role as the Development Director of the Partnership Brokers Association, Ros delivers a comprehensive range of training courses designed to build the skills, confidence and competencies necessary to broker partnerships effectively. We’re excited that Ros will be moderating at the Social Enterprise World Forum in the breakout session, “Culture Shock: Engaging Others in Your Success.” Just in time for the forum’s launch next week, SiG had the opportunity to speak with Ros about developing partnership competencies for social change.

Why are partnerships helpful to creating social change?

Ros: If partnerships weren’t needed, they wouldn’t be necessary. In other words, if society worked the way we’d like it to work, we wouldn’t have any need for cross-sector collaboration. If each sector – government, business, civil society and international agencies – were able to function at their optimum capacity, then things would be fine. We would have a complex coherent world interrelated with each other in appropriate ways. The reality is that no one sector really functions particularly well. Most sectors are finding they are failing to deliver on their own goals and wider societal goals. So suddenly, the whole idea of working together to collaborate to make change seems extremely attractive.

PBA-Logo-Pantone-Landscape

How can we as individuals and organizations develop a more collaborative culture, particularly across sectors and continents, to address the systemic intractable issues of our society?

Ros: I think human nature is quite complex and there is a tendency to think that collaboration is just business as usual, straightforward. The tendency is to think:

Of course we’re all human beings, we get on with each other, we know how to make good relationships, therefore it shouldn’t be any kind of major problem to learn how to collaborate.

I believe the reality is quite different. The ability to break boundaries – to be boundary spanners requires quite a radical challenge to one’s assumptions and mindsets. One has to really question how one thinks about other sectors and countries in order to operate differently. I think certainly in the west, we’ve grown up with a certain culture of possessiveness, of thinking we have to know best, thinking we’re right. And actually we don’t necessarily know best and we’re not necessarily right. Actually a much more open and honest way to proceed is to see things as a dialogue, where everyone is discovering and learning how to do things, rather than some people thinking they have the answers and trying to coerce others into accepting their own point of view. It’s sounds like a complex answer but I think collaboration is not business as usual. It takes reframed skills and it takes the kind of people who are willing to adapt and move outside their own comfort zone perhaps, for the benefit of a bigger purpose. And actually when the chips are down – however liberal or liberated we think we are – we are all fond of our comfort zones. In fact, the challenge to change towards a genuinely more collaborative model is quite a big one.

Are there ways to prepare or hone the ability to be out of one’s comfort zone, as well as encourage other people to take that leap?

Ros: I’d describe it as both an art and a science. The art element is being able to envision something different, to know what you’re aspiring towards and therefore making the right journey to get to that goal. The goal has to be forward looking, future-looking. It has to be based on attentiveness, listening, intuition, on understanding what is needed now, on making the most of what you have, instead of some preconceived idea that you are trying to impose. That’s the art of it. But to do this well, art and intuition are not enough. You also have to be rigorous, technical, scientific, meticulous, business-like, astute, and persistent. These are very different kinds of attributes. So the ideal practitioner in this space, as a partnership broker or intermediary, will be able to see which of those things (art or science) they do naturally and work quite hard to develop the other side of themselves so they can do both.

The Social Enterprise World Forum is a gathering of 1,200 social impact champions from various sectors and associations around the world. What excites you about attending the event?

SEWFRos: I’ve been working partnership brokering for the last 20 years and only when I was invited by Social Innovation Generation to speak at a MaRS conference two years ago did I find myself in a room full of social innovators. As I started to hear people speak, I suddenly realized that I was amongst my peers. What I registered is that although my work is in the realm of partnership brokering, as an individual I’m basically a social innovator, so I feel very naturally drawn towards that world. I’m extremely excited to hear how much that world has developed in Canada, as social innovators seem very central in Canada. It does feel like a privilege to be in a room full of social innovators because I think the world really needs it. Of course, the big question for me is what is the interface between social innovation and partnership brokering and partnership development? Since the two worlds have similar qualities and are useful to one another, they seem to support, inform and reinforce each other.