It Takes Two (or Sometimes Three) to Make a Thing Go Right

Six Elements For A Successful Approach to Public, Private, Social Sector Collaboration

At PYXERA Global, we have been talking about the importance of partnership A LOT. Like A LOT, A LOT. Like, we know you are sick of hearing us talk about it, A LOT.

We also get asked this question A LOT: “How do you do it? How do you get companies, NGOs, and government agencies to work together?” So, we decided to stop simply talking about the power of partnership – now we are teaching it, too. With experience designing and implementing partnerships in more than 90 countries, working with more than 30 multinational corporations, and over 28,000 local businesses, NGOs, government agencies, and educational institutions, we’ve learned a thing or two about getting very different collaborators to agree on mutually beneficial goals.

Over the past several months, we’ve been working to bring the lessons we’ve collectively learned over the past 25 years to other organizations that are also looking to reach across sectors to advance shared goals. What we have found is that from DC to Rome, New York to New Delhi, leaders from across sectors agree that understanding one another as people is the foundation of working together effectively.

For us, this starts with a six-step interpersonal approach to a sustainable partnership foundation. There is no perfect partnership formula, but committing to an approach that values the human-to-human element can help avoid the headaches that so many have experienced while trying to engage in new collaborations.

Invest Time

Do all you can to get to know your potential partner(s) even before you sit down for an initial meeting. Do your desk research; Google the organizations, Google the specific individuals you’re meeting with. Don’t be above a little online stalking – check out their LinkedIn profiles, scroll through their Twitter feed, and anything they’ve ever published in order to understand their experience, perspective, and style. Ask yourself the question early on: Do we really want to work with these partners?

Define the Partnership

Create shared understanding as soon as possible. Discuss key stakeholder needs, identify resources to leverage, and draft a partnership charter that includes a risk management plan. In all of this work, agree to a common language and stick to those terms throughout the lifecycle of your collaboration. Now is the time to consider: Does this effort actually require a partnership? If the answer is no, don’t waste your time and theirs by trying to force a partnership simply in order to say you have one.

Develop the Implementation Plan

Now is the time to get into the gritty details. Define a project governance structure; agree on goals, objectives, and milestones; create a long-term stakeholder engagement plan; and craft internal and external communications plans. At this stage in the process, check to see: Are your goals and your partners’ goals aligned? If the answer is no, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. The important thing is that you and your partner(s) don’t have goals that are mutually exclusive.

Assess Challenges & Successes

Reflect on all of the work you and your partner(s) have done so far. What’s working well and what isn’t? Compare actual results with the objectives and key milestones you outlined in your initial implementation plan. Survey the project team along with external stakeholder to get feedback from their perspective. Document the lessons you’ve learned. Ask the team working on this partnership: What should be done differently? Use the stop-start-keep feedback mechanism: what should we stop doing, keep doing, and start doing?

Adjust Course

Take a breath and look at where you are versus where you intended to be at this stage in the game. Revisit your partnership charter and make revisions as needed. Update your implementation plan to reflect current realities that impact your staffing plan, stakeholder engagement, budget, etc. Ask a gut-check question: Is this partnership still mutually beneficial?

Amplify Success

Congratulations – you have some success to show for your work together! Now what? Obviously you want to share the story of that success, both to take a victory lap about the genuine impact your collaboration has had on the community it was designed to serve, but also to act as a way to influence others who work in the space to mimic the elements of your approach that they can replicate in their own work. In addition to trumpeting the success you and your partner(s) have had to-date, think about this: How do we leverage this partnership to do more? That might mean expanding your portfolio with the same partner on another project, adding additional partners to the existing project, or replicating the model with other partners in another community. Think big.

PYXERA Global is not a training or coaching organization, and we have no desire to be one – there are plenty of other people who do that well. We only created a partnership workshop because it is so aligned to our mission statement: To reinvent how public, private, and social interests engage to solve global challenges.

Aside from the specific elements summarized above, our answer to “How do you do it?” is actually pretty simple: respect one another, be honest, and remember that partnership is personal. For-profit companies, mission-driven organizations, and government agencies might be the partners on paper, but it’s the people from those entities that drive the actual work of partnership. Once you’ve built a solid foundation based on shared understanding and respect, it is that much easier to engage in the six steps outlined above. A thoughtful approach to partnership matters because there’s never been a more critical time to be involved in tri-sector collaboration; our collective ability to solve the pressing challenges facing the world today depends on it.


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