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A well-managed and operational Conservation Gateway is in our future! Marketing, Conservation, and Science have partnered on a plan to rebuild the Gateway into the organization’s enterprise content management system (AEM), with a planned launch of a minimal viable product in late 2024. If you’re interested in learning more about the project, reach out to for more info!
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Once the partnership is established, with a Partnering Agreement in place, the team’s next focus is implementation of joint activities. Enter this stage with care and deliberation - you are setting the standard for interaction and engagement with your partners for the future of the collaboration.

These are some key elements of implementing joint work within a partnership:

Joint Work Planning

A carefully crafted joint work plan essentially serves as a road map for a successful partnership and project. Through the joint work planning process, not only will you be solidifying the links between your goal, objectives, strategies and available resources, you will also be embarking on an important trust and accountability building activity with your partners. There are many ways of approaching a joint- work planning process, but in a collaborative effort it’s important to remember:

  • All partners must be involved in the work planning process to feel a sense of commitment and ownership;

  • Each organization/individual will bring different skills and expectations to the task - managing this diversity may be time consuming but it will add significant value;

  • Each partner will need to consider the implications of the joint work plan for their own organization and for their organization’s own planning process and priorities;

  • Regular milestones should be included for achieving and celebrating successes – generate the energy from all the team members that contributes to strong momentum and shared purpose,

  • As with all work plans, don’t forget to make your work plan SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-Oriented and Time-Bound.
    (adapted from The Partnering Toolbook)

Remember, there is a spectrum of potential levels of collaboration in a work plan. At one end of the spectrum, all activities are assigned to one partner or the other. While independent activities are easier to manage at the outset, they also limit opportunities for partners to share best practices and learn new skills. At the other end of the spectrum, activities are conducted jointly. Joint activities are a key part of strengthening mutual respect, recognition and trust, particularly at a field level.

Click here for work planning tools to use: Joint workplan template, input template

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Partnership Coordination & Staffing

All partnerships, large or small, need some kind of supporting infrastructure. One of the most common reasons that collaborations fail is the lack of a dedicated infrastructure to support the partnership.

If a partnership is small and informal, it may be an individual - either from one of the partner organizations or from outside the partnership – that acts as broker or intermediary on behalf of the partners to build and strengthen the partnership. If a partnership is large and complex, more than one person or perhaps even an entire organization is required to keep the project functioning. This is often called a brokering or backbone organization.

Partnership brokers or brokering organizations require a very specific set of skills. They serve to plan, manage, and support the initiative through facilitation, technology and communications support, data collection and reporting, and handling the myriad logistical and administrative details needed for the initiative to function smoothly. Click here for more information on partnership brokering.

Here are some tips for building an effective partnership team:

Hire the Right Staff: It is critically important to hire, train, and deploy competent staff with appropriate collaborative attitudes and skills, and to ensure that staff are able to allocate sufficient time to manage the partnership project. Staff need to have skills that balance both the “science” (e.g., processes, budgets, financing, targets, goals) and “art” (e.g., building trust, joint problem solving, open communications, transparency) of partnering. Make sure relevant job descriptions include (and existing staff are evaluated for) partnership skills, and when interviewing prospective project managers, probe your candidates’ experience in collaborations and conflict management.

While the values and attributes that make good partnership staff are inherent in an individual’s character, everyone can learn the key skills of negotiation, facilitation, conflict management and project management. Training opportunities like these can help staff build these kinds of skills.

Allocate Sufficient Staff Time: Most partnerships require more time than anyone anticipates. It’s important to be as realistic and generous as possible as you think about how much time you and your staff can commit, especially when you divide your time between multiple projects. Work plan activities and timelines need to be reflected in project staff’s annual objectives, but you may also want to incorporate additional objectives and time for tending to the partnership itself. Remember to budget time for keeping partners, stakeholders, and senior managers informed and enthused about the progress in the project, and for transferring lessons learned about this project to other parts of the organization or other organizations.

Encourage Equity between Staff: The issue of inequitable salaries and benefits (ie salary, travel budgets, training opportunities) is rarely considered in advance, but it surfaces with surprising regularity. These issues create resentment and a sense of unfairness among staff and can also exacerbates feelings of inequality within the partnership, all of which can be made worse when diversity issues are in the mix. If the concern is known and understood by all parties, clear efforts to find a solution can create greater trust, a heightened sense of equity, and deeper friendships. Take into account issues of inequity between partners when writing work plans and setting budgets, to try create similar working conditions for staff counterparts.

Engage Senior Leadership: Senior managers should play a role in negotiating partnership agreements, and stay involved in the project as advisors, supervisors, advocates and/or champions. When senior management transitions are a result of a new strategic direction, binding agreements can help maintain partnerships.

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Good Partnership Practice

Effective interaction, communication and action will likely result when organizations and individuals use good partnership practices. Here are some established good practices to consider embedding into your partnership:

Establish Meeting Standards: Establish meeting norms and manage meetings for open communications and shared decision to help get a work plan on track and build good working relationships across partners. Partners should agree in advance on who calls meetings and who hosts and sets the agenda. Furthermore, make sure that meetings are focused, well-managed, and specifically that all meetings:

  • Achieve their goals
  • Keep all parties actively engaged throughout
  • Allocates follow-up tasks and timetables for completion
  • Summarizes all decisions made
  • Ends at the pre-agreed time

For three tips for keeping meetings effective and short, click here.

You may consider developing some simple ground-rules for interaction, like active listening, not interrupting, speaking briefly, dealing with facts not rumors and respecting those not present at the meeting.

If attendance at partner meetings begins to decline, meetings may no longer engaging or valuable enough for partners to make the effort to attend. In these circumstances, quick action should be taken to make meetings more meaningful and lively. Consider:

  • Allowing opportunities for social interaction
  • Brainstorming new issues
  • Inviting interesting guest speakers
  • Sharing a relevant experience - perhaps a visit to a project or holding the meeting at the premises of a new partner organization and seeing their work at firsthand
  • Using the meeting for enhancing learning, by ending with a review of what worked well and what could be improved in the way the participants interacted.
    (adapted from the Partnering Toolbook)

Establish Internal and External Communication Norms: Effective and continuous communication between partners is essential for moving a project forward, particularly since each organization brings diverse and often unspoken motivations. Determining your communication strategies should be done early on (see Partnering Toolbook, Section 3). Good general practices for partnership communication include:

  • Be timely in communication.
  • Brainstorming new issues
  • Be consultative, not dictatorial. Invite contributions from partners, instead of informing them of what they need to know.
  • Be flexible by keeping communication fluid, and not finalizing anything too quickly.
  • Be meticulous by documenting agreements and plans, and agreeing with partners to revisit, adjust and adapt as the situation changes.
    (adapted from Talking the Walk)

Set Roles and Responsibilities for Managing the Partnership: Be clear on roles and responsibilities and openly discuss and come to agreement on what they include. . When you do not clearly understand your own and your partners roles and responsibilities, confusion, miscommunication and mistrust ensue. This is one of the most important elements to clarify and document early on (see Section 3).

Organize and Celebrate Early “Wins”: Organizing and celebrating early wins is important to build a sense of teamship and mutual gain. When you are designing your work plan, do your best to ensure some short-term wins, so that you can create a celebratory culture.

Compile Operations Manuals: Many projects, particularly long-term complex projects, jointly develop operational manuals that help identify and document all operational issues and provide agreed upon day-to-day operational behaviors and norms. (see Section 3, and these helpful examples: Organizational Guidelines East Maui Watershed Partnership and TNC-Big Sur Partnership Owners Manual)

Plan for Dispute Resolution: As in any relationship, if you identify and work through disputes and grievances early, you stand a better chance at avoiding the strained emotions that become harder to resolve as time passes. Assume from the beginning that there will always be issues to resolve; it is a natural element of all partnerships. Your best plan is to prepare for them; your worst plan is to hope they will not happen. In the partnership documentation (see Section 3, and see these tips for conflict resolution), plan for how issues will be resolved. In many cases this means considering third party mediation for more formal grievance procedures or when decisions cannot be reached. Conflict management tools and skills will help you navigate these stressful situations, more information here.

Manage Multiple Relationships with One Partner: Sometimes, your organization will have multiple relationships with one partner. Effectively managing these relationships requires higher levels of attention, including clear governance models for decision-making within each organization. For these situations, consider executing an over-arching contract and a designating lead for the wider relationship. New contracts and amendments should be reviewed by the alliance manager to ensure that the health and productivity of the wider relationship is enhanced by additional projects and that problems at the project level do not harm the wider collaboration.

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