8th December 2008

I was talking to a senior person in the public sector last week and the conversation turned to “partnership working”. We had a difference of opinion as to what a partnership is and thus I thought it was a good topic to expand upon.

There is no doubt that “partnership” is an overused and often abused term, so rather than provide some technical description I feel that I can best illustrate my viewpoint through my own “golden rules” and practical example from my business. This is a partnership aimed at delivery of a contract.

Firstly a partnership does not have to be based on equality. Many people however seem to believe this to be the case – in my opinion this is better termed as a co-operative. In drawing together an effective partnership you should be looking to identify the strengths of each participant and then maximising these for the benefits of the client, funders and deliverers. Inevitably the contract value will not be split evenly but based upon levels of activity.

Secondly you always need a lead partner – someone who will take responsibility, financial liability, contract control etc. This partner should be rewarded for the risk and responsibility via a “top slice” of the contract value. Without a lead you are trying to run a contract by committee which is virtually impossible to do.

Next on my list is to establish a partnership before you need to! There is nothing guaranteed to put you at a contracting disadvantage more than a “partnership” hastily put together to win a tender. Start building good working relationships now and then when an opportunity presents itself you automatically have credibility. You are as strong as the weakest partner so chose carefully. I could go on but let’s look at effective partnership in practice:

1. New Deal – Almost three years ago over 20 enterprise agencies formed a partnership under the lead of NWES to win a multi regional contract which has been worth £1.5m each year. Our partnership was based on quality irrespective of traditional operating areas and we have not been afraid to police delivery and change operators if necessary to maintain the overall contract.

2. Thames Gateway – two agencies recently won an important contract by working in partnership with Business in the Community and a professional drama group to bring enterprise to life in a disadvantaged area. The partnership recognised the individual partner strengths to deliver something new and vibrant. This partnership however has been a long time in its formation and has been trialled in other areas before tendering for this contract.

There are many more examples of course so if you have yet to be a part of a winning partnership look to emulate your peers and secure your future.

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