• Helen Burt Iain McCormick

Building better business partnerships


Photo Credit: Amy Hirschi

Organisations are regularly forming partnerships to bid for new projects, to gain access to new markets or to reduce risk. As business gets more complex and projects get bigger it is critical that partnerships are formed rapidly but endure over the long term.


As management consultants we are often asked to assist in the partnership formation process. From our point of view there are a range of lessons we have learned over the years.


Form a clear understanding from the outset

It is too easy for organisations to rush into the detail of a project or a deal without asking the critical questions such as “What are we hoping to get out of this partnership?” “What are our concerns about this deal?” “What is our appetite for risk and how similar is this to your appetite?”


Actively build the relationship over time

Getting to know each other and socialising is easy at the start of a partnership but this needs to be sustained over time. Regular formal and informal communication channels need to be established such as Q&A sessions, lunch de-briefs, regular blogs and so on.


Invest in measurement and accountability

Our experience shows that regular quarterly measurement of collaboration between the parties is a critical element in the success of partnerships. These measures should include the combined partnership team’s views on overall how open the communication is, how evident the trust is, how clear the partnership objectives are and so on. In addition, there must be a 360-degree type team assessment which assesses how each team feels about the collaboration of each other team. This type of metric can then be used to undertaken feedback and accountability sessions to learn and implement lessons inside the partnership.


Develop effective problem-solving processes

Ineffective partnerships are characterised by simmering unresolved conflict at the team leader and operator levels. Without clear training in problem solving, a known conflict escalation process and a governance team that is committed to making unanimous decisions, effective problem solving will be elusive.


In conclusion, partnerships are becoming more important as business becomes more complex and projects become larger. As an astute client of ours once said “Collaboration does not happen by chance, it needs to be actively built and sustained over time!”

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