Partnership Transitions and Endings

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All partnerships experience transition and, ultimately, closure. In this stage, the primary question is, “Why continue?” The members need to assess whether the partners are still committed to working together, whether it still makes sense to collaborate on the work at hand, if the current partners are the right ones at this stage of the project, and whether the partnership’s purpose has been accomplished. If people are bored or burned out, partners should ask, “Is the work of this group done? If not, then why are people feeling this way?” Properly assessing your situation will help determine the best course of action. Just as launching a partnership requires broad thinking, ending one does too. Even during endings, it’s important to maintain a collaborative mindset that considers the well-being of the partnership as a whole, not just each organization’s separate interests.

Transition and closure are natural stages in a partnership.

Every partnership must eventually consider issues of transition and ending. Some partnerships may use this time to renew goals and commitments. Others may find that it’s time to let certain organizational partners go or end the partnership altogether. Have an open and honest discussion with your partners to understand when the partnership is transitioning into a stage of renewal or ending.

Every partnership relationship is unique. What motivates one organization or individual to continue working collaboratively might be very different from what motivates another.  In some instances, one organization may want to leave the partnership. In this case, you can discuss what would need to change to hold everyone’s interests. Perhaps the disinterest is an early warning sign that others are feeling the same way. In other situations it may be in the best interests of both the partner and the partnership as a whole to allow the organization to leave on appropriate terms. Ultimately, partnerships are effective only when all members see a value in continuing their participation and can willingly work together to achieve the common purpose.

Although partnerships need closure, this step is often missed. Too often partnerships end with a hard stop without substantial communication between members. Or they might terminate without a real ending, gradually dwindling down without formally closing out. Make sure to discuss, plan for, and openly acknowledge the departure of a member organization or the formal ending of your partnership.

Partnership closure is an opportunity to consolidate learning.

When you close a partnership, it’s part of the natural cycle to consolidate learning. Whether or not you provide structured time to explore “lessons learned,” partnership members will be thinking individually about what worked, what didn’t, people they learned from, and from whom they want to continue to learn.

Since this is already happening at an individual level, you can capture that thinking and use it to close down in a way that allows participants to apply the learning to their next endeavors. You might help people consolidate learning through simple activities in which members describe what worked and what did not. You can also invite individual and group reflections on lessons learned. Or you might ask members to recap accomplishments while also discussing what must be left behind and what needs to be tackled next.

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Check your understanding of partnership transitions and endings.

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