4 Practices to Establish Partnership Identity

What are the first few things the founders of a new country create? Often before they finish the constitution or assigning leaders to important posts, they pick a name and design a flag. A shared name, symbols, and language bind people together. The same is true for partnerships. A backbone organization becomes the holder of the partnership identity and manages it using these four practices from CollaborateUp’s Collective Impact Field Guide:


1. Formally launch and relaunch teams

One of the things that make multi-stakeholder initiatives complex is the “multi-team” nature of the collaboration: rarely are people assigned to the partnership full-time. This sets up a series of stresses and competitive priorities for them. They feel pulled between loyalty to their “home organization” and the multi-stakeholder partnership as well as to the many other teams they may be assigned to for their day job. To resolve these conflicts, leadership should formally launch and periodically “relaunch” the team. Formally relaunching the team and bringing people back together in person to work on interpersonal connection and on strengthening the collaborative partnership helps to assess whether agreed-upon processes and expectations still make sense.


2. Working IN and ON the partnership

When working IN the partnership, the partners work to solve the common problem or advance the common purpose. When working ON the partnership, the partners work to create or improve the way in which the partnership itself functions. IN isn’t ON and there is no overlap. Working IN the partnership is what most people naturally gravitate to because it’s relatively straightforward and what they’re used to doing in their day jobs. Working ON is harder because it can feel ambiguous and amorphous. The backbone organization helps coordinate leaders and partners working ON the partnership, organizing what could otherwise be really vague and uncoordinated work.


3. Create symbols, names, traditions, and other partnership branding/identity

A brand is more than a logo or symbol. It defines who belongs and who doesn’t belong. It helps create the traditions – the way members treat each other, how meetings are conducted, how stories are told – that define what it means to be part of the partnership. It coaches members on tactical things, like how to use the logo of the partnership in relationship to the logos of the member organizations, to big things like how to deal with inviting (or dismissing) members.


4. Explicit and deliberate team building

Great teams are made, not born. It takes work, especially in a multi-stakeholder partnership where the individual participants from the various partner organizations will come and go with some frequency. Team building involves getting the partners to learn how to put their issues on the table, use “straight talk” (the ability to speak politely but directly) to discuss them, and actively work ON the partnership.


Do you want to learn how to drive multi-stakeholder partnerships? Then we invite you to attend the next CollaborateUp Academy, April 11-12 in Washington D.C.! Our Academy is an interactive experience that introduces individuals and teams to concepts in collaboration and innovation to use in tackling society’s tough challenges. Sign up today, and become a master collaborator in your field!

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