Trust, Power and Relationships

Partnering brings together organisations with very different interests and values, so trust cannot be assumed from the outset. It has to be earned over time. Cultivating productive working relationships at three levels (among individuals, partnering organisations, and other stakeholders) can pay dividends in terms of the achievement of mutually agreed goals.

Working to build an understanding of each other’s needs, expectations, and requirements helps move through difficulties while building trust. It is important to respect each other’s personal and organisational positions, mandates, and to genuinely value each other’s contributions. That includes agreeing to disagree sometimes. Breaking through difficulties can lead to exciting, innovative approaches and new directions.

Power imbalances are not to be neglected. Partners may never be ‘equal’ (in size, influence, amount of resources) but they should always strive to be ‘equitable’ (respectful of the value each brings and of the benefits of interdependency). It is, however, common for more authority to be taken (or tacitly given) to those partners with the most resources and actual or perceived power. This is never healthy for a partnering endeavour as it reinforces the status quo and holds the endeavour back from breakthrough results by undervaluing certain partners and thereby marginalising their interests and priorities.

It is important to develop constructive and fair group processes and to redress any imbalance(s) of power. Try to create a working climate in which open dialogues are possible and even welcomed. Clear communication, information sharing, transparency, accountability to each other, and an explicit engagement in the partnering endeavour by all concerned are crucial.


  • How do partners foster a collaboration culture amongst the participating organisations?
  • What trust-building activities are partners undertaking?
  • How do partners create a sense of ownership and genuine joint responsibility?
  • How do partners best understand and manage power dynamics?
  • How do partners build greater equity amongst each other?
  • How do partners cope when power differences lead to conflict rather than breakthrough?
  • Are roles and responsibilities of each partner clear and transparent for all?
  • How to empower those with less power?



  • Regular dialogue, stock-taking, and consideration of new directions
  • All partners are content with the extent to which their contributions are appreciated
  • Partner roles in decision making are clear
  • All partners are content with how power conflicts have been addressed