Partnership Brokering: what to do when #coalitionsfail

Uncategorized Nov 18, 2020

If you have a calling to make the world a better place, chances are you've spent too much time working in coalitions that do a better job of torturing their members than getting any real work done in the world. 

Thankfully, there is a better way: it's called Partnership Brokering.  It's been used for over twenty-five years to advance sustainable economic development projects all over the world, and it's a great way to do collaboration differently.

One of the biggest reasons coalitions fail is that they focus only on the collective interest that brings everyone together.  A key insight from the partnership brokering field is that to collaborate effectively in the face of complexity you have to pay even more attention to naming and taming the key INDIVIDUAL interests that each party brings with them.   When those individual interests are left unspoken, they lead to all kinds of dysfunction, suspicion and lost opportunities. 

The core principles for a brokered partnership:

We come together to advance a shared interest, AND we recognize that each one of us can and will step back from this partnership table if our key individual interests are harmed. So, we agree to:

  • Declare our own overriding individual interests
  • Do no harm to other's overriding individual interests
  • Help others advance their individual interests whenever we can


The five steps to implement this approach

These are the five steps to putting this approach into action, which the video walks through in more detail:

  1. Hypothesize: 

    What’s the issue and why is a partnership potentially valuable?

  2. Map: 

    Who’s out there with relevant shared interests and influence?  What are their overriding individual interests that could cause them to walk away from the partnership?

  3. Establish: 

    Who’s in?

  4. Operate: 

    Who’s doing what? What else needs to be worked out as we go? Who else can we bring in?

  5. Evaluate: 

    Where are we? Do we want to keep going?

Is it time to try this out?

Partnership brokers come in all shapes and sizes, and if you're ready to do collaboration differently, it could be time to try this out.  That might mean bringing in a trained professional, getting trained yourself, or simply trying out some of these principles next time you have to collaborate across organizational boundaries.

To dig deeper, the Partnering Initiative is a great website with all kinds of resources, including the Partnering Toolbook available as a free download.

The Partnership Brokers Association also has great resources including this introductory guide, as well as a training program for partnership brokers.



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