Successful partnerships are managed by people who recognize the importance of cultivating healthy working relationships. In a large partnership comprised of many relationships, it’s essential to establish guidelines on how partnership members will work together. Creating and following partnership norms is an effective way to maintain healthy working relationships.
Although partnerships have “contracts”— formal agreements between organizations that establish the goals, structure, and responsibilities of a partnership relationship—these documents do not establish the “how” of the relationship. Partnership norms are informal guidelines on how partnership members will behave and interact with one another. These four steps will help you implement partnership norms.
Identify the shared values of the group.
In the partnership kickoff meeting, engage your partners in dialogue about establishing norms, often referred to as “ground rules.” Identify the areas in which norms will be necessary. Suggested areas include communication, knowledge management, resource management, decision-making, conflict resolution, and/or meetings.
Take time to listen to each person’s perspective on each topic. Then, as a group, decide on what your shared values and norms will be. Partnership norms must be agreed upon by all members of the group.
Document partnership norms and make them easily accessible.
Based on your shared values, write statements that will serve as guidelines for behavior and how the group will work together. For example, if your partnership places a value on participant attendance at partnership meetings, a suggested norm might read:
- We will attend all partnership meetings regularly.
- I will notify members in advance if I must miss a meeting.
- I will ask another member of the group to debrief me within one week of missing any meetings.
Using “we will” or “I will” statements can help create ownership of the partnership norms. Once your norms are documented, make sure they’re easily accessible to everyone in the group. Consider posting your partnership norms on a shared website or virtual workspace.
Communicate the norms regularly.
By communicating your partnership norms frequently, you emphasize people’s accountability to the group’s shared values. Consider creating laminated cards or fact sheets that can be distributed to members. You might also consider attaching a copy of partnership norms with all meeting notes or posting them in the meeting rooms.
Update the norms as needed.
As your partnership adds or loses members, it’s important to revisit your partnership norms. But even if you maintain the same members throughout the relationship, it’s necessary to review and assess your norms based on the current stage of your partnership. Partnership norms are only effective when all members of the group agree on the shared values.
This template can help you develop partnership norms.
Click this link to download the Partnership Norms Template .
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