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10 Reasons why partnership working doesn’t happen

Shaking handsEveryone in government and charitable agencies is quick to say how committed to partnership working they are. Everyone agrees on the need to join up, work together and be smarter, but so often it doesn’t happen. Here’s my top ten reasons why:

1. We don’t do the arguing at the start
Us British are not very good at disagreeing. When you’re planning on working together you’ve got to uncover the sticking points before you get going and work things through when you’re not in the pressure of having to deliver. It takes time (see 3) and risks the relationship, but wouldn’t you prefer to find out how people cope with disagreement upfront?

2. People can’t imagine what partnership would look like
Actually working closely with another organisation is really different from just speaking to them once in a while. It’s so alien a concept that it’s difficult to imagine how it would all work and this forms barriers to it happening. What would happen if one of us had more holiday? We normally let clients use the phone without supervison. Who would be in charge of the petty cash?

3. Partnership takes longer…a lot longer
We all operate on trying to get projects up and running as quickly as possible, but working in partnership means sitting around apparently not doing very much whilst you understand where each other is coming from. A project taking 9 months – 1 year to get off the ground by yourself might take 18 months working with partners, but the slow win can be worth while.

4. Partnership means losing control
The manager who has the final say over their domain might suddenly need to be consulting with someone else – it feels like a loss of control. Sometimes it does, but then if it’s in the best interests of your clients / customers surely that’s OK…?

5. People see partnership as an added extra
Whatever they say to the contrary, most people focus on keeping their own organisation or their own place in their organisation going. When it comes to the pressures of day to day priorities, meeting and supporting other agencies slips down the list even when it’s to the benefit of clients they claim to serve.

 6.Distant HQs only see the problems not the benefits
Sometimes the people on the ground are used to having regular contact with each other and can see the benefits of working of working more closely together for the benefit of their customers/clients. If the HQ in London that is busy trying to run a well branded, streamlined organisation with national reach it can be them that don’t want the grey areas of working with others.

7. Partnership means giving stuff up
The homeless project I lead recently moved from giving out food unilaterally to an integrated system with other agencies. We lost one of the ‘selling points’ of our project – the reason people came to us. Partnership means giving stuff up, taking risks, to end up with something that’s better for our customers / clients.

8. Loss of organisational identity
For many people running small charities and businesses the organisation can be ‘their baby’. The fear of it being subsumed in a well integrated partnership can be all too real. In bigger organisations the tribal ‘my agency right or wrong’ kicks in. If people defined themselves in terms of ‘not being like the other lot’ it can be even harder.

 9. Culture clashes
Different organisations have different cultures – the way we do things around here. This is true between different charities, but the differences between statutory agencies and the voluntary sector or business are normally massive. Charities think Councils are tied up with rules and procedure. The NHS thinks that charities are well meaning amateurs who don’t know what they’re talking about. Businesses despair of both because they’re too soft-hearted to take tough decisions.

10. Partnership means being painfully honest
Partnership means opening honestly ourselves our organisations up, exposing our weaknesses to critique and getting beneath the ‘we’re doing great’ veneer that we often like to put on. That takes a confidence in who we are as individuals and a clear focus on doing the best for people we’re trying to serve regardless of the consequences for ourselves.

That’s difficult, really difficult, but when it works, evenutally, it’s worth it.

5 thoughts on “10 Reasons why partnership working doesn’t happen”

  1. Rings true for international development too…and local churches doing stuff together. We do often manage to do both of those though!


    1. Hi Ian, I sometimes see situations where people are eager to start working in partnership quickly and therefore don’t work through the issues or possible values clashes which causes problems later – people kind of assume or hope they’ll work out.


      1. I understand that, but was perhaps a bit put off by the idea that this was about disagreements. I totally agree that far too often we set off without doing the groundwork!


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