Partnerships: are you the Bono and Frank Sinatra of social enterprise?

PartnershipBeen giving much thought to partnership of late. Whether this is due to celebrating my second wedding anniversary (gifts to SSE towers please…), I'm not sure. I think it was more from listening to the NPR All Songs Considered podcast recently about the oddest musical pairings. There were some great throwbacks (Aerosmith + Run DMC, Nick Cave + Kylie etc), but also some absolute clunkers. And even worse than Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat (oh yes), was Frank Sinatra and Bono's version of I've Got You Under My Skin. It is an object exercise in how to achieve less than the sum of your parts….

So what makes for successful partnerships? How can two (or more organisations) create additional value together? Or, to put it another way, how can you ensure you create Walk This Way and not Opposites Attract?

I revisited part of a slideshow I did a little while back on partnership.

Some key questions there, and some thoughts about the nature of the partnership (its formality, its structure, its level of capacity and resource needed and so on) you might be thinking about. And how form should follow function.

Other questions to think about might include:

– what are you hoping to achieve?
– who proposed the idea? (and why?)

– does it fit with mission, vision, values, strategy etc?

– will it add value?

– are the activities complementary or competing? (NB Bono is not complementary to Sinatra)

– who will lead? (and in what areas…)

– is the scope of ambition and timescale realistic?

– are the verbal commitments above and beyond the possible?

– are the right mix of skills on board?

– are the cultures similar? (culture clash is a common barrier)

– is the size and experience similar?
– how do you avoid over-bureaucratisation, over-administration, countless meetings etc? but still have good governance?
– what should be captured in writing? (how formally? MoU, SLA, HoA etc); don't forget the money; don't overcomplicate…

…and so on. All other questions welcome (feel free to add in the comments below).

From an SSE perspective, we are in lots of partnerships (indeed, our franchise network is a network of long-term partnerships) for all sorts of different purposes. Our experience is that success comes down to people: trust, openness, candour, shared ethos, and positive intent. Without those, even the most compelling proposition on paper is destined to fail. Which can damage one or both of the organisations involved.

After all, where is MC Skat Kat now?

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