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How to Create and Live Partnership Principles

By Amy Celep

Have you ever been part of a collaborative that agreed to uphold a set of values or principles but then the group never talked about them again and didn’t live up to them?

In both our research around and work with efforts that have realized social transformation, we have seen that many of these efforts are able to make progress because they’ve invested time in intentionally building shared culture. In my last blog post, I talked about one powerful device that can be used to build shared culture: partnership principles.

In the previous post, I explored what partnership principles are and why they are important to develop when working in a collaborative context. In this post, I’ll share a few thoughts about how to create them. We know creating them is one thing, while living them is another. I’ll also share a few tips on how to ensure your collaborative lives them.

Creating Partnership Principles

There are a couple of questions we have found as powerful conversation starters for a collaborative trying to develop a set of partnership principles and associated behaviors:

  • What did you value most in past partnerships, and why?
  • What do you expect of the other partners at the table, and why?
  • Think about a situation in working with others that made you mad, upset, or frustrated. What was the root cause of your frustration? Why do you think they did what they did? What do you wish they had done instead?
  • Think beyond where this group is today and consider the broader context of this work and the people that this initiative may need to engage in the future. What happens if members of the initiative are competitors? Someone joins who does not know anyone else? Some people in the group have closer relationships than others?

We encourage collaborative participants to reflect on and discuss these questions in a variety of ways: individual reflection and anonymous reporting (e.g., post-it notes), small group conversations, and large group discussions. In considering these questions, the group should start to develop a list of the desired values and associated behaviors reflected in the participants’ answers.

Once a collaborative has developed this list of potential principles and behaviors, it can be helpful for a facilitator or small subset of the group to reduce redundancies, combine similar concepts, and develop a more honed set of principles and behaviors for consideration by the broader group. A skilled facilitator can then assist the group in making final decisions. Key questions for consideration at this stage might include:

  • What resonates with you? What, if any, refinements would you make?
  • Are you comfortable using these principles to guide how the group works together?

Living Partnership Principles

Deciding on principles is only the beginning. The key is to ensure that the group continues to live the principles. For example, integrating the principles into all internal and external communications and meetings as a standard practice can help reinforce them. Here are just a few ideas on how and where a collaborative might consider incorporating its partnership principles:

  • Give each principle a memorable name or slogan to allow people to more easily remember it and to allow collaborative participants to more easily call it out when it is or isn’t being upheld For example, if one of the principles is about honest, straightforward dialogue, the slogan might be “Don’t sugarcoat.”
  • When inviting individuals to be part of the collaborative, discuss the partnership principles and their willingness to uphold them. You may even want to ask all participants to sign an agreement to uphold the principles.
  • Integrate the principles into all meetings (e.g., remind people of the principles at the beginning of each meeting and allow people to praise their peers for upholding the principles during a quick discussion at the end of the meeting).
  • Make explicit reference to, and use, the principles in all partnership agreements/memorandums of understanding/contracts.
  • Discuss in any consistently-produced reports how the principles are being put into practice.
  • In developing proposals or RFPs, refer to how the principles will be used in implementation.
  • When talking to the media, mention the collaborative and how it is being carried out with regard to the principles.
  • Evaluate progress on integrating principles into the collaborative’s work on a quarterly basis (e.g., through a standing agenda item).

We recognize that this is easier said than done and oftentimes it takes skilled facilitation to ensure a collaborative upholds its agreed-upon principles. It likely also will take patience and forgiveness, as no one is perfect. But it can be done. With the passing of Nelson Mandela this week, I was moved by many of his quotes but one seems particularly relevant to the topic of collaboration:

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” – Nelson Mandela (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)

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Amy Celep

About Amy Celep

As CEO of Community Wealth Partners, Amy Celep guides the organization’s strategic direction and oversees its more than 20 employees in their efforts to support partners in solving problems at the magnitude they exist. Amy was named to this role in April 2010, and since then has led the organization in developing and implementing a new strategy for greater impact, while achieving 50 percent revenue growth and securing a marquee list of partners. See Amy's full bio

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