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    Strengthening Your Partnerships
Quick Tips

Establish an environment of trust.
  • Show your partner that you accept his or her comments, concerns, and ideas.
  • Share your own thoughts, ideas, and concerns.
  • Create open, two-way communication.
  • Follow up on any agreements you've made.
Collaborate with your partner on establishing ground rules for how to work together.
  • Decide how to share responsibility for keeping the partnership active.
  • Agree on appropriate levels of involvement.
  • Define exactly what key terms mean to everyone, such as "quality," "deadlines," and "availability."
  • Establish a regular schedule of meetings, updates, and reviews, as appropriate.
  • Determine how to measure and share progress and outcomes.
Strengthen the state of the partnership.
  • Stay focused on the results you want to achieve.
  • Agree on what process steps you will follow to accomplish goals.
  • Identify the benefits of the partnership, which will keep commitment and involvement high.
  • Demonstrate consistent behavior to maintain trust.
  • Communicate suggestions and information freely, and remove any barriers that might prevent you from doing so.
Identify issues and topics that partners need to discuss.
  • Define the strategic purpose of the partnership; assess what will be different as a result of it.
  • Think through what's important to you, your partners, the organization, and customers/suppliers and how everyone will benefit through the partnership.
  • Look for potential barriers and how they can be overcome.
  • Determine what support each partner needs, including training and any outside support.
  • Ascertain how people will approach the partnership—who will do what by when.
  • Agree on how to measure and share results.
Exchange feedback throughout the duration of the partnership.
  • Work with your partner to decide in which areas you want to receive feedback in order to measure how well the partnership is doing and to alert you to areas that need improvement.
  • Use specific wording to capture expectations accurately.
  • Be honest about how well the partnership is or is not working.
  • Meet regularly or at agreed-upon times to review feedback and devise a plan for acting on that feedback, if necessary.

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    Strengthening Your Partnerships

Overriding working relationships to get to the goal.
If you focus your efforts solely on achieving the partnership's desired outcome without also tending to your relationship with your partner, you might:
  • Weaken or entirely lose the partnership cohesion that keeps the level of collaboration high.
  • Cause people to distrust your motives and perpetuate a low-trust environment.
Attempting to take over all decision-making authority and control.
In a partnership both members are mutually responsible for setting direction and making decisions. If one person tries to take over, it could:
  • Discourage the other from remaining committed or even involved in the business relationship.
  • Cause people to question each other's integrity and character.
  • In a worst-case scenario, render the partnership null and void.
Burying issues that should be raised at the discussion table.
If you don't discuss shared outcomes, benefits, barriers, support, approach, or measurement with your partner, you might be unable to:
  • Discover each partner's perspectives, individual goals, and expectations.
  • Uncover hidden barriers or incorrect assumptions that could take the partnership off course.
  • Make informed decisions on how to move forward.
  • Clarify expectations and action plans.
Failing to assess how the partnership is actually operating.
If you don't have a system in place to evaluate how well the partnership is working, then you and your partner might miss opportunities to:
  • Focus on areas that need improvement to make the partnership more effective.
  • Regularly share feedback about important factors that contribute to a successful partnership.
  • Make adjustments to help keep the partnership on course.
Using the same evaluation areas for every partnership.
Each partnership is unique; therefore, if you rely on the same feedback categories for every partnership you engage in, you won't be able to:
  • Address your partner's specific needs and expectations.
  • Monitor areas that are most critical to the partnership.
  • Exchange targeted feedback with your partner about the way the partnership is working.

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Articles and Books


Baldoni, J. (2009, June). "How to Collaborate with Your Contractors." Harvard Business Review web exclusive. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from http://blogs.hbr.org/2009/06/collaborate-with-your-contract/

Different expectations, levels of commitment, and authority can hurt any partnership, but these factors often are prevalent in vendor or contractor relationships. The writer offers reasons for these frustrations and suggests three methods for addressing them.

Das, K. (2012, March). "Never Innovate Alone: How to Collaborate for Organizational Impact." Design Management Review, 23(1), Page 30–37.

Successful innovators know how to build strategic partnerships within organizations. The writer contends that being innovative begins with building coalitions, so that new ideas can be nurtured.

Ellehuus, C. (2012, Spring). "Peer Power." Business Strategy Review, 23(1) 60–63.

Inspired by athletes and sports, the writer explores ways to keep people engaged and motivated in troubled economic times. He focuses particularly on peer exchanges.

Miller, F.A., & Katz J.H. (2014, Winter). "4 Keys to Accelerating Collaboration." OD Practitioner, 46(1), 6–11.

The article offers steps on how to promote collaboration within an organization through the use of a common language for all interactions. The writers note that for collaboration to be effective, an organization also needs to take into account its traditional structures and practices.

O'Dell, C., & Hubert, C. (2013, Fall). "Seamless Collaboration: Enabling Employees to Work Together Across Boundaries." Canadian Learning Journal, 17(2), 16–18.

This article focuses on how organizations can support the coordination of their employees' working with each other. Topics discussed include the rise of social networking, the quality of collaborative interactions, and communication tools such as instant messaging. The writers also explore how workstations are facing challenges in knowledge management.


Bushe, G.R. (2010). Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work. Boston: Nicholas Brealey America.

Hidden agendas, unresolved conflicts, crucial issues never discussed—such drama in the office is what the author calls "interpersonal mush." Conflicts or issues can dominate the workplace and hamper honest communication. This book directly tackles these issues by providing specific tools and techniques as well as personal stories of individuals who have put the principles and practices of Clear Leadership into action to achieve outstanding results for themselves and their organizations. Included are more than 20 skill-building exercises, dozens of case examples, and alternative thinking about approaches to conversations.

Cheesebrow, D. (2012). Partnership: Redefined: Leadership Through the Power of &. Centerville, MN: Bogman.

The author challenges some currently held leadership practices and proposes a new, more effective style of leadership—one based on our understanding of human systems and dynamics within power structures. This book is designed to change the way leaders lead.

Hackman, J. (2011). Collaborative Intelligence: Using Teams to Solve Hard Problems. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

The communication and collaboration among professionals in the intelligence area can be complex, contentious, and challenging. The author draws on his own experience in the intelligence community and his personal research into its dynamics, and shows how any leader can create an environment where teamwork flourishes. He identified six enabling conditions, such as establishing clear norms of conduct and providing well-timed team coaching, that will increase the likelihood that teams will be effective in any setting or type of organization. Although written explicitly for the intelligence profession and related areas, the book also will be valuable for improving team success in all kinds of leadership, management, service, and production teams in business, government, and nonprofit enterprises.

Katz, J.H., & Miller, F.A. (2013). Opening Doors to Teamwork and Collaboration: 4 Keys That Change Everything. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

People may be an organization's greatest asset, but their interactions with one another are what determine the quality and quantity of their contributions. Few organizations know how to generate the sense of excitement, energy, and shared mission that occurs when people truly join together. This book describes four simple behavioral keys that can fundamentally change how people work together through building greater trust, understanding, and collaboration.

Smith, D.M. (2011). Elephant in the Room: How Relationships Make or Break the Success of Leaders and Organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

The author explains how relationships determine the success or failure of leaders. She uses in-depth observational studies and clinical research to explore how relationships at the top of organizations work, develop, and change. Then, the author shows how a leader can understand, strengthen, and transform these relationships so that they can withstand the most intense pressures and conflicts.

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