Everyone brings a set of values, priorities, resources and competencies to a partnership. The challenge of any partnership is to bring these diverse contributions together, and arrive at a common vision, in order to achieve sustainable and meaningful goals.
- Loss of autonomy: the challenge of shared decision-making processes; the need for building consensus with partners before action can be taken and the implications of wider accountability (to other partners and to wider beneficiaries)
- Conflicts of interest: where a decision or action that is right for the interests of the partnership but may be at odds with the individual organisation’s interests
- Drain on resources: commitment (often significantly greater than anticipated) of time and energy of key staff in partnership building and project development in addition to any additional financial or other resource contributions
- Implementation challenges: the day-to-day demands of delivering a partnership program as a collaborative venture, with all the additional management, tracking, reporting and evaluation requirements that entails.
- Negative reputation impact: when partnerships go wrong causing damage to the reputation or track record of individual partners by association.
Some strategies for overcoming these challenges include:
- Determine who and how issues or concerns will be brought forward.
- Clearly document the problem or conflict in a way that gets at the root issues, the sources and history of the conflict and clarifies the assumptions. Consider issues of confidentiality.
- Determine who will resolve the issues (e.g., Steering Committee, subgroup or neutral person/ agency). Choose someone who is seen as neutral and credible by all those affected.
- Ask those parties that are affected by the conflict to: reflect on the information; ensure mutual understanding; agree to interpretations; and identify the individual’s interest in the issue. Try to frame the issues and concerns in a way that can result in new understandings and solutions.
- Identify possible solutions that best meet the needs and interests of all those affected. Be prepared to compromise and find consensus. Utilize any elements of the collaboration agreement that helps frame solutions (e.g., value statement; roles and responsibilities).
- Select and document the best possible solution(s), and develop a plan to implement them that includes actions, responsibilities and timelines.
- If an acceptable solution cannot be found, move to a more formal process of facilitation, mediation or arbitration by an independent person.
- Bring closure to the dispute by ensuring that the people with the conflict have let it go, both in their ‘head and heart’.
- Communicate the results to appropriate stakeholders.
Adapted from the Partnering Initiative and the United Way.