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Working in partnership

How do I work in partnership with other organisations on a project?

Category: PlanningName: Jenny Oates, Project Manager
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Why?

We have developed successful approaches to bring together a range of different types of organization including an NGO, university, government research body and a regional government authority. Working with different types of organization, from a range of countries brings advantages in terms of added value from different expertise and perspectives but also presents challenges in terms of ensuring coordinated working.

Step by Step

  1. Thinking about and choosing the right partners for a project at the start is really important. Think about organisations that you have worked with before with shared values and ways of working, It is crucial to make sure that you know the background to these organisations and consider whether they are financially stable and reliable. Think about the organisation’s goals and strategies and whether these are aligned with the project.
  2. Early in the project it is important to building a partnership working model including clear expectations, powers and responsibilities. This model needs to be agreed by all and regularly revisited throughout the project.
  3. Agree a clear strategy and objectives with all the partners at the start of the project to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals. It will be important to acknowledge that this may have changed since the original proposal was written. Have a look at the top tips for project management which are also very relevant to good partnership working.
  4. Hold regular in person team meetings with all partners to share interim products and report on progress. Also hold regular in person bilateral meetings with each partner to monitor progress and address any challenges directly.

Top Tips

Define roles and responsibilities in the project. Make sure that each partner organizations is clear which activities in the project they are responsible for leading and delivering and which activities they need to support other partners with.

Establish routine and preferred methods of communication. Communication preferences even within an organization can vary widely.  People may prefer email, instant messenger, phone calls or in person meetings. They may want regular correspondence as problems arise or for questions and updates to be grouped together. Our project staff were spread over 8 offices so the majority of day to day communication was done by email.  We had teleconferences for regular meetings and stakeholder engagement officers committed to using the phone rather than email as the primary means of communicating outside of the project.

Build a shared understanding of what the project objectives are. If partners don’t agree what the objectives are you will all be working to different end-points. This affects how tasks are prioritized, where the effort is concentrated, and how partners perceive the risk of not achieving different objectives. It leads to misunderstandings and tension in relationships. People spend time trying to argue their point or approach rather than operating as a team.

Have regular face to face meetings. It was important to understand the different perspectives of the partner organisations in terms of their own priorities and working styles. Having regular face to face meetings was really beneficial in this respect, giving everyone the chance to hear from and get to know each other. The working agreement should emphasize the importance of attendance at these meetings.

Swap the location of meetings. Hosting a meeting takes time but also generates feelings of pride and inclusion.  Making an effort to host your face to face meetings at each partner office is a relationship winner and helps share the travel burden.

Resources

Time

The Celtic Seas Partnership had face to face full team meetings (all staff and representatives from Partner organizations) quarterly which took a morning or afternoon.  In addition, one representative from each partner were part of the steering group which met quarterly, generally in the morning or afternoon directly before or after the full project meeting. Each partner organization also held regular meetings with their individual staff about the project which included where appropriate support staff working on the accountants, evaluation and impact or senior management.

The location of the meetings was often determined by how easy it was for everyone to get there.

People

The project manager is key to coordinating partner relationships.

Cost

Face to face meetings are important so include adequate resources in the budget to cover travel, accommodation and food for those events.