The importance of partnership

By June O'Sullivan

| 28 January 2019

"The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people." - Theodore Roosevelt

Many organisations talk about working in partnership. It has become something of a mantra. A call to partnership! However, when you actually ask organisations what they mean by partnership, the replies are varied. Some organisations are part of a network and their partnership is through shared information, occasional meetings and maybe a magazine or shared website. Others form collaborative partnerships to apply for funds or projects together for a mutual benefit.

The benefits of partnership working is that we can do something we could not have done on our own. In doing that we utilise the strengths and areas of expertise of all the partner agencies involved and make the best use of available resources.

Although partnership working often makes sense, it isn't necessarily easy. Partnerships can be formed between individuals, agencies or organisations with a shared interest. This is the key because unless there is not a shared agreement about the purpose of the partnership it soon becomes two separate organisations working in parallel. Therefore the energy and increased opportunities of bringing two organisations together is lost. Different agendas, misunderstandings, no clear boundary between partners' responsibilities, reluctance to share information and data with other partners, lack of time available to commit to the partnership, particularly in the early stages and a lack of clear structure can lead to tensions.

For partnerships to work, partners need to understand what makes each other tick and figure out what is possible for each partner. Too often, partnership working can become mechanistic - something that has to be done to comply with government policies and targets. Some partners are less equal than others and that leads to resentment and no real partnership goes on.

My preference is for collaborative partnership which weaves two concepts into one. The definition of collaboration is to cooperate with an agency with which one is not immediately connected. Partnership, then adds a more formal element to the arrangement usually in the shape of a contract or agreement so that there is a defined written outcome from the arrangement. Ideally then a collaborative partnership is likely to lead to a successful outcome especially when both parties have aligned values and are signed up to share their thinking.

Partnership working makes sense for lots of different reasons, not least that it provides opportunity to view and understand issues from different perspectives and is potentially a move towards more ‘joined up thinking' between organisations and sectors. Successful partnerships tend to reflect key success criteria. These are:

  1. Commitment - Are we all signed up to this? Are we clear about our roles?
  2. Clarity of purpose - Are we all agreed what we are doing? Is the aim of the partnership understood by all?
  3. Coordination - Is there someone leading and managing the process?
  4. Trust - Do we really believe in what we are doing and that we can all deliver on our promise?
  5. Communication - Have we enough ways of keeping in touch and up to speed?
  6. Conflict resolution - Have we got ways of quickly sorting any problems?

At LEYF we are very keen on partnerships and the power of collaboration. One of our long-standing partnerships is with Peabody Trust; this year we are working in collaboration to support the goals and outcomes both our organisations want to meet.

LEYF and Peabody have designed a careers event to take place at Pembury Community Centre on 29 January for all their residents who are seeking a career in childcare. The day has been advertised across all Peabody projects in Hackney. LEYF will be running an information day and professional discussions for interested candidates.

Partnership, done well, can lead to changes in the way we work, avoidance of duplication additional funding and bigger reputation. Success is predicated on weaving collaboration and partnership together through a social contract which is fair, equitable and based on common goals. A commitment to continuity and enduring trust by fulfilling promises is the legacy to aim for and one which is likely to see positive outcomes for the children and families and for the organisation.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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