Partnership Challenges and Evaluation

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The challenges involved in managing your partnership will typically fall into two categories—substantive issues and relationship issues. Organizations tend to carefully consider substantive issues, such as budgets or administrative arrangements. But few pay adequate attention to a major cause of partnership failure—relationship issues, such as the inability to resolve conflict. The key, of course, is for partnerships to focus on both types of issues. Successful partnerships select someone to serve as a dedicated partnership manager. This individual is responsible for the partnership’s relationship management. A partnership manager might support healthy relationships by coordinating communication between partners, ensuring adherence to norms and collaboration processes, spotting potential conflicts, mediating disputes, and tracking the health of the working relationship over time. All partnerships need an ongoing process to monitor both substantive and relationship issues. Broad evaluation questions might include: Is the partnership meeting its aims and objectives? How well is it performing? and What lessons can be learned?

There are various challenges to sustaining effective partnerships.

It helps to anticipate potential barriers to working effectively with your partners. Some barriers are substantive, which means they involve financial, strategic, or technical issues. Other challenges are relationship-oriented. These issues might relate to leader compatibility, degree of trust, joint problem-solving capacity, or conflict resolution ability.

Other challenges that partnerships may face include turf battles among stakeholders, clashes between different organizational cultures, rigid policies regarding intellectual property, disputes over private sector engagement, inappropriate staffing and role assignments, the ups and downs of community politics, and member burnout. As the partnership evolves, partners must identify whatever barriers exist and work together to resolve them.

Effective partnerships use monitoring and evaluation processes.

Partnerships need to create methods for evaluating and revising aims and objectives. This means providing opportunities to learn what has been successful and what has not and to build these lessons into revised plans. Formal performance management processes, such as clarifying performance expectations and providing feedback, also contribute to partnership monitoring and evaluation.

In addition, it’s important to monitor and report on the health of the working relationship between partners through use of a formal mechanism. This helps identify simmering conflict, negative perceptions, or relationship risks, which can then be constructively addressed before they undercut the partnership. It’s essential to look across multiple relationships to identify organizational barriers to effective partnering.

Monitoring and evaluation also helps partners anticipate changes that may affect the partnership so they can collaboratively plan for the implications of such change. For instance, this helps the partnership to:

  • Adapt to competitive or regulatory environment changes
  • Expand, reduce, or shift the focus of a partner relationship, as needed
  • Reduce negative effects of downsizing, mergers, or restructuring
  • Respond to reorganization and/or departures of key personnel

This checklist can help you monitor and evaluate your partnership.

Click this link to download the Evaluation Checklist.

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