But what if we began to approach partnerships through a different lens? What if partnerships were more about what we could do better together? What if partnerships were about understanding the resources each party brought to the table to meet the needs of each of the organizations or individuals? What if partnerships actually transformed organizations rather than just met their immediate needs?
Many years ago, when I was head of school at Lutheran High North in Houston, the school partnered with LINC-Houston in what became a service project of significant proportions. LHN needed access to places in which students could learn and practice the art of service and leadership...LINC-Houston needed manpower to get significant work done on several of their properties. What developed was a Week of Service in the greater Houston community where over 300 students and teachers served at over 15 locations for 4 straight days. As a result of that partnership, news stations throughout town covered the service project...students developed as leaders...15 Houston non-profits had their needs met...LINC-Houston gained a greater reputation for getting things done...and in the end, more students came to the school and we raised more monies through gifts and grants.
So how might partnerships move from transactional to transformational? Here are a few thoughts:
- Begin the discussion by asking a lot of questions - what are the organizations' deepest need? What strengths does each organization or individual have? What are the similarities that exist between the parties? What are the big picture goals both parties have?
- State up front that you want the partnership to go beyond the transactional functions and that you are looking for something that is deeper, longer lasting, and have a benefit beyond just the two parties.
- Accept that fact that each party is also looking for the transactional outcome and find ways to make that happen as well.
- Take an inventory of each party's strengths - what does one organization have that the other doesn't...and how can that those strengths work together to accomplish something neither organization can do by themselves?
- Come to the table with no specific expectations and just enjoy the dialogue that will ensue. You never know where deep dialogue can lead.
- Understand that a final solution may take time. Often ideas have to cogitate and be shared with others before they can become a reality.
- Engage others in the conversation. As thoughts arise, bring new people and other experts to help you flesh out the ideas that are coming to fruition. Expand the base of partners.
- Be willing to walk away from the dialogue when no possible partnership exists. Deep partnerships are difficult to come by and might even be few and far between...but you will never know what might be if the dialogue never begins.
- The Abundant Community by Peter Block and John McKnight (2010, Berret-Koehler)
- The Collaboration Challenge by James Austin (2000, Jossey-Bass)