At a time of significant disruption in the community services sector, many organisations are rightly focused on defining their inventory and consolidating their market position. The idea of collaboration or partnership in an increasingly competitive market seems nonsensical to many agencies.
However, if we were to adopt Evan Rosen’s assertion from his book ‘The Culture of Collaboration’ that “Effective collaboration is about maximizing time, talent and tools to create value”, collaborations and partnerships appear to be potential facilitators for value adding and efficiencies that will be necessary to remain competitive.
The benefits that can be gained from partnerships and collaborations are as varied as the risks they can pose. Often though, in an increasingly competitive environment, the potential risks attract a disproportionate amount of the attention. We have found that conscious, detailed and balanced consideration of both reward and risk has allowed us to make collaboration and partnership decisions which have offered all parties benefits.
The capacity to leverage off a partner’s geographic footprint, established customer base, specific skills and expertise has allowed us to take our business into new areas in shorter timeframes and at far less cost than would otherwise have been possible. Our investment in partnerships has included: the sharing and adaptation of tools and resources; the support and training of partner staff; support with administration and ‘back of house’ services; skilling in product knowledge and use; and commitments to on-going support to develop and enhance community capacity.
In exploring potential partnerships we have found the following particularly useful:
- Being clear about why each party is considering the partnership. What’s in it for me? Honesty from the onset is crucial in the development of trust.
- Clarifying and calling any power differential that exists in the proposal. It is unlikely that all parties will have equal say in all decisions so name the non-negotiables early.
- Confirming commitment. Clarifying expectations of all parties is essential e.g. time, resource and financial commitments.
- Acknowledge potential rewards. The partnership may, depending on its terms, afford one party greater benefits than others. It should not be assumed that gains and losses from the collaboration will be equal nor necessarily align with levels or amounts of commitment.
The benefits of raising our eyes and looking past the obvious opportunities within the sector should not be underestimated. This change of view can open opportunities not available through traditional channels. One observation is that the degree to which competition impacts the risk/benefit equation differs significantly depending on the type of partnership being considered. The emphasis on competitive advantage currently occupying sector thinking does not demand the same priority when exploring opportunities where the potential partner is not a market competitor. The reduced focus on competition has allowed us space to explore more creative, experimental and innovative opportunities to grow, develop and add value to our business.
Things to consider when exploring a collaboration or partnership:
- Choose wisely – do your homework first. Check that you organisational values, vision and mission align. Declare your motivators.
- Communicate – be open and honest and have high expectation of other parties. Be clear and precise about what you expect and will accept.
- Capture – ensure any agreement is documented in both detail and language that all parties understand. Clarify specific responsibilities, timeframes and outcomes. Detail your dispute resolution process.
- Cultivate – honesty can make us vulnerable, but as in any relationship it is the key to trust. Monitor and review your relationship regularly. Explore other possibilities.
- Celebrate – share your successes, publicise and promote your partnership and acknowledge your partners.
About Jim Haywood and My Future: My Life
Jim Haywood is the Manager of Self Directed Supports at Centacare Brisbane. My Future: My Life is administered across Queensland by Centacare Brisbane.
My Future: My Life is a ground-breaking initiative that encourages and supports Queensland secondary students with a disability to prepare and plan for life after school. The initiative provides financial assistance to eligible senior students and supports parents, educators and disability professionals to build their capacity to support students to plan and pursue the life they imagine after school.