My recent survey of blog readers, LinkedIn and Twitter contacts indicates that understanding each other and our differences is our biggest challenge to working in partnership. Now I am building on the research results to design a course that will improve your ability to bring organisations together to create impact.
I would like to thank the 19 people who responded to the survey. Of the 19, two thirds described their experience in partnership working as reasonable or expert, so I am confident that the results are sensible but I am cautious about the sample size and conclusions we can draw. The clearest result appears to be the one alluded to above: in response to the question, "What is the biggest challenge for working in partnership?", 37% of respondents picked "understanding each other and our differences":
There was only one other question (apart from a space for comments and data gathered about the respondent) and that question, about key skills for partnership, yielded an even spread of responses:
Building results into training design
There are some conclusions I can draw from this research but I am going to be cautious about what it tells me about training needs. When I start to run the course I'll seek information from participants about their needs, both before the course and in reflective exercises during the training.
Having done a lot of partnership work myself I am not surprised that mutual understanding comes out as the biggest challenge. I think there are at least two problems at play here. One is about working with organisations that are different to ours, and the other is about working with people who are different to us. I will be developing learning exercises and information resources that will enable participants to address both, in practical, common sense ways and also encouraging participants to recognise the personal nature of this challenge and it links to leadership.
On the question of key challenges, I think the other significant-looking result is that, on the whole, people didn't see "getting support from within our organisation" as the major challenge. Clearly that support is important but it sounds like people aren't having to fight to work in partnership. Hurrah! Nevertheless, my training will look at the need to secure organisational support for initiating and maintaining partnership.
Partnership working often requires people to represent their organisation and make decisions - at least operational, often strategic - on behalf of the organisation. For CEOs and senior managers this goes with their role and is backed up by experience and authority, but for officers (and I speak from personal experience) the level of responsibility and risk required in partnership working can be a source of pressure. One in four survey respondents chose "representing one's organisation effectively in communications and decision-making" as the most important skill for partnership, and in training I will look at this by exploring communication methods and a framework for appropriate decision-making.
The second most popular response to the skills question was "connecting with someone from a different perspective, background or culture" and my training will draw on my experience in working with different cultures and communities in the UK, particularly disability organisations and BME leaders, and overseas in Africa and Asia. There is a strong link here to the key challenge: with the skills to make personal connections you are much better placed to understand others and build strong working relationships with them.
There were just two comments from respondents. A really important comment came from a volunteer, who felt that their contribution to partnership was undervalued by paid counterparts. I think that's something to pick up in discussion around responsibility and communication. The second comment was a plug for someone else's blog - you're welcome to read it!
Next steps: training for local groups, and (possibly) a course for engineers in Cambodia
I am talking to a local training provider about running a course for them, targeted at workers from voluntary and community groups, and also have an offer to help run a three week course in Cambodia which will give me a chance to explore partnership working with engineers working in international development contexts. Both options are maybes at the moment but they are enough incentive for me to keep working on developing the course, and I'll be looking for more opportunities all the time. If would like to approach me about collaborating with you on a course, please do so, or if you'd like training please get in touch and I can let you know about opportunities.
Thanks again for your support and comments. If you have more views, information or evidence of need to share please get in touch or leave a comment below.
Analysis of who responded
If you like this sort of thing...