By Ros Tennyson, Director, Partnership Brokers Association
Partnering is very simple, very complicated or very complex depending on whom you talk to! There are those who regard it as ‘business as usual’ with a new name, those who have been ‘partnering for years’ and don’t understand what all the fuss is about and those who believe it fundamentally challenges the status quo and requires a significant change in mindset and behaviour.
Those of us in the latter category who strive to promote and support effective partnering (and I believe there are many across the globe committed to this) may find ourselves torn between positioning successful practices as ‘rules’ (in an effort to make partnering accessible and less daunting) and positioning partnering as context-specific and emergent in character where ‘rules’ do not easily apply (in an effort to build local leadership, context-appropriate and co-created solutions).
What I have observed over the 25 years I have been involved in this movement (and, at its best, I believe it is a movement when it is not imposed as a requirement) is that what works in one scenario and has the buzz that comes from genuinely transformational impact very rarely works a second time round. In other words, the chemistry of a situation is unique and non-transferable. The decisions and processes that were experienced as ‘true’ (by which I mean authentic, co-created and highly responsive to the situation) in one scenario become empty, flat and rhetorical if imposed or assumed to be ‘the way to do it’ in another.
As a species we seem to expect to find predictable solutions to our dilemmas and we appear to be unwilling to give ourselves wholeheartedly to emerging what is needed in any given situation. And then we wonder why partnering so often falls short of expectation and in meeting clearly identified and specific needs. We may even despair and give up on the whole thing.
But what if we gave up on formulaic approaches to partnering instead? What if we work from a set of ‘principles’ rather than ‘rules’ (there is a difference)… and evolve what is needed by paying systematic attention to core values like: building equity; giving space for openness; striving for mutual benefit and relishing diversity… all of which require the kinds of changes in mindset and behaviour that lead to doing things differently.
In this scenario, when we let go of the ‘how to’ tool books and the consultants who persuade us that they have the answer to partnering good practice, it really takes only one key attribute to underpin our partnering efforts and that is courage – the courage to live and work with uncertainty (whether our own, or that of others with whom we are partnering and/or the global uncertainty of what faces us in the future).
I believe this is what it takes. But then, of course, if that is today’s ‘truth’ by the time you read this blog, it will have become tomorrow’s formula.