How to manage cross-sector collaboration

This chapter will help you work well with community partners, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government, international agencies, and academic institutions. Much of the material for this chapter is drawn from The Partnering Initiative[1], the specialist global program of the International Business Leaders Forum[2], with a well-established international reputation for promoting excellence in sustainable development partnerships. A best-practice interview with Ros Tennyson, the highly inspirational Founding Director of The Partnering Initiative, is featured at the start of this chapter.

Relationships are key

Effective cross-sector partnering requires a positive working relationship. Good relationships tend to be based on familiarity and trust, and both may not be present at the beginning – they need to be developed, and trust is earned over time. Taking sufficient time for relationship-building and listening to each other’s needs ensures both sides can then feel comfortable to focus on operational project management. This also facilitates discussions on important issues, joint problem solving and resolving areas of divergent opinions.

Respect your partners

A successful cross-sector partnership involves more than simply contracting an organization to deliver a service. It is important to respect your partners for what they bring to the table, and to understand that your and their ways of working and expectations might be quite different.

Effective cross-sector partnering is an “art” that requires good people skills as well as good management skills, efficient processes, and well-developed tools and frameworks.

Pay attention to core partnering values

In managing a partnership, it’s important to focus on the core values that underlie your joint efforts – values including equity, transparency, and mutual benefit. Equity is about what each partner brings to the table, e.g., the experience of an NGO partner in the community might well equal the value of a company’s monetary contribution. Transparency is about sharing information and maintaining open communication, even around difficult issues. Mutual benefit is about all parties achieving their stated goals within the partnership.

Why pay attention to these?

  • Equity leads to mutual respect
  • Transparency leads to trust
  • Mutual benefit leads to sustainability for the partnership

Have a well-structured partnering process

While the types of partnership are limitless, there are key management framework and process aspects that need to be paid attention to in order to sustain the success of a partnership. They are: appropriate representation; sufficient resources; the right distribution of roles and responsibilities; sound decision-making; sound leadership; effective meeting processes; effective work processes; good and transparent communication; trust and teamwork; commitment.

Resolve problems together

When challenges arise, it’s important to resolve problems together, e.g., immediately through effective discussion, through pre-agreed annual partner review processes or through dialogue facilitated by a competent external mediator. Often these challenges lead to new breakthrough and so should not be avoided.  

Achieving more together than alone

Multi-sector partnerships are not quick, comfortable, or easy solutions. They require hard work and perseverance. When such partnerships, founded on mutual values, are well managed and lead to sustainable outcomes, they will achieve far more than one sector can alone.

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[1] www.ThePartneringInitiative.org; Veronica Scheubel, co-author of this publication, is an Associate of The Partnering Initiative