A top executive once explained to me that a successful partnership has four features: trust, executive engagement, a strong value proposition, and a simple process. After 20 years of helping to form public-private partnerships, I couldn’t agree more. But I’ve also found that to realize this success, partners need practical steps and methods to help them create and sustain these partnerships.
In successful partnerships, the partners master how to work collaboratively toward common goals for mutual benefit. I’ve found that the following tips can help any partnership succeed:
- Clear vision and purpose – The purpose of the partnership must be clear to all partners and put into writing. A charter or terms of reference is essential. It should explicitly state the goal, scope, and duration of the partnership; the roles and expectations of the partners (including time commitment); and deliverables and expected outcomes.
- Right people, right skills – Working collaboratively isn’t for everyone, especially across organizations. It takes special skills and the ability to navigate through thorny problems. Make sure that each partner’s representative has these skills and the ability to commit his or her organization to actions.
- Mutual understanding of roles and responsibilities – Misunderstanding the roles and responsibilities of partners will complicate and delay your partnership. A good charter should explain what each partner is responsible for, as well as what they aren’t.
- Neutral facilitator and support – Using a neutral facilitator for meetings and planning sessions enables all partners to fully engage in discussions and decision making without being seen as biased. Good support personnel optimize everyone’s time and quickly turn around products to maintain partnership momentum.
- Realistic expectations and simple action plan – Overly engineered structures and overly ambitious goals can suck the energy out of a partnership. Beware of bureaucratic processes and goals that are too hard to reach. Create a simple action plan that everyone understands and can follow.
- Accountability: metrics and milestones – Are we making progress? Are we on track to reach our goal? Each partnership should have a simple set of metrics to measure progress. Create realistic milestones and put them in your action plan. Revisit these metrics at least once a year.
- Tangible near- and long-term results – Sustaining commitment to a partnership is hard without tangible results. Make sure the partners identify and deliver valuable products within the first year, even if the goal of the partnership is to produce long-term outcomes.
- Clear communications and common language – By their nature, partnerships engage diverse stakeholders and experts, each using distinct terminology. Vague language and ambiguous terms can derail a partnership. Be precise, write it down, and make a glossary if needed.
- Proper scaling – Some partnerships start large and become small; others start small and expand. Create a partnership structure that can scale to meet partner needs as conditions change.
- Ground rules for behavior – It may sound silly, but this is an important feature. Create ground rules at the start of the partnership that everyone can abide by and adjust them as necessary. Here’s a simple one I’ve used: all conference calls are 60 minutes long and start and end promptly. You won’t believe how effective a simple rule like that can be and how much your partners will thank you.
Although there are many different types of public-private partnerships—from collaborative working groups to formal projects involving contracts and large investments—they all share a common need: to pool the intellectual and economic resources of diverse partners to solve difficult problems. These ten tips can help your partnership to get results, accelerate progress, and maximize the benefit for all partners.