Creating Sustainable Partnerships

Making the Connection

Networking is a loaded word for those who may not be confident about reaching out to people or are new to the idea. For some, the idea of “networking” has negative connotations, perhaps conjuring up images of devious schemes and complex machinations. For others, the barrier might simply be a kind of social anxiety manifested by self-doubt and fears about how we come across to others. So we don’t talk about networking. Instead, we talk about practising sustainable partnerships. Wherever you sit on the spectrum, all meaningful relationships begin with that first contact that leads to the discovery of common purpose. So we believe it’s worth a close look at what makes a partnership constructive and sustainable. What is the difference between a ritualistic card swap and a conversation that leads to co-created “win-win” opportunities? We’ve put together the following tips based on our own experience:

1. Be Genuinely Curious

More precisely, “Be your Story”. People will be attracted to you as a person and your ideas if you are true to yourself and your story. There’s more to gain from being open and truthful than there is from being a blushing violet of a wallflower. Reaching out can feel risky and awkward. Often, we feel rewarded by structures that pull us into familiar patterns of behaviour. However, the benefits of sustained partnering are immense when it comes to innovation. Curiosity is the key.

2. Be Open Minded

In our experience, Social Entrepreneurs often see their businesses as their ‘baby’ and can be over cautious when it comes to looking for synergies beyond their field of focus. This can stifle potentially powerful partnerships before they even get going. We have witnessed multiple businesses in a conversation where one grows food, one cooks food and the other does food education, and yet it was difficult for them to see opportunities to work together!

Approaching partnership conversations without preconceptions will open up the way for a wider range of possibilities to emerge. It’s always a good sign when surprising connections are made or seemingly unrelated ideas start to gel.  The trick is to stay with the conversation and extract the learning from those surprises. Another good thing to do is to allow your prospective partners to challenge your preconceptions. In other words, work with their perspective of what might be possible rather than your own.

3. Keep the Candle Burning

Establish a dialogue that makes it easier for partners to contribute and follow a narrative. Decide what actions you are in a position to carry out in relation to conversations;  make sure you do them; and share what you’ve done. If conversations are the notes that make good music; then the actions we take in between are equally as important. There are gaps in music for a very good reason. Maintain energy levels between contacts by making notes and capturing your reflections. Remember you’re exploring, looking for value. This will also ensure that the next chance you get to reprise the conversation you won’t just be picking up where you left off; you will have made magical progress.

4. Share Your Ideas Freely

Truly curious people intuitively understand the need to share ideas; compare notes and learn together. Any work you do in partnership should be fueled by a spirit of open collaboration. It’s about not holding back again. A sustainable partnership requires a freedom to express the art of the possible without fear of exploitation or skulduggery. There is no better way to build mutual trust and respect than to engage in a process of open sharing and mutuality. So share your thoughts willingly with potential partners and use the resulting energy to construct mutual beneficial mental models that describe what good could look like for everyone in the partnership.

5. Seek Common Purpose

Take as much time as is necessary to be clear and honest about what you have in common from the start and establish the clearly define shared purpose you’re working towards. It may evolve over time and that’s a good thing. In our experience, that scenario is best described from the point of view of a target beneficiary. That is, a real person in a real place who benefits when the partners combine their various skills, resources, and assets. An absence of a common purpose framework is most often the stumbling block for achieving long-term impact. If all stakeholders are focussed on the target beneficiaries above their own organisational or personal needs there is a much better chance of creating that compelling “win-win” vision.