Collaborative working and partnerships
A marriage of convenience?
Increasingly, voluntary organisations which may be used to operating entirely independently are finding themselves working in collaboration with others to deliver services or to develop joint bids for contracts or grants. In some cases, these working relationships may be based on convenience or necessity rather than mutual love or a natural desire to be together. It is not uncommon, in fact, for partners to have a history of being in competition with one another, so it is not surprising when tensions and conflicts arise. One partner is usually dominant, because they are better resourced or more experienced, so there is almost inevitably seen to be an imbalance of power. When there are multiple partners, there may well be an uneasy balance between the interests of the individual partners and the partnership as a whole.
Just as people don’t generally enter into marriage with a clear plan for what they will do if the relationship doesn’t work out, too few organisations think about what will happen if their partnerships break down or a partner leaves. However successful a partnership and however good the relationships, disagreements, tensions and mistrust may develop over time and external factors may contribute to irreconcilable differences. This is the point at which joint working agreements may prove invaluable. Just like the pre-nuptual agreement, a written agreement should provide clarity about expectations, roles, responsibilities, accountability, resolution of disputes and exit strategies.
For better, for worse
Some partnerships may become long-term mutual commitments culminating in merger, but often partners want to retain their independence and don’t want to commit to anything more formal. The word “partner” is used so frequently and indiscriminately in some quarters that it has become meaningless, unless you believe that we’re all “partners” of everyone else. It’s a bit like the number of “friends” some people have on social networking sites such as Facebook! Leaping into bed with people, whether or not they call themselves partners, may lead to unforeseen and unwelcome consequences, so it’s wise to consider all of the options to avoid finding yourself in a situation with which you’re unhappy.
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