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Failing forward: Are the partners stretching?

Posted on June 16, 2016
By Elayne Greeley

 stretch.jpegAt the end of my accreditation as a partnership broker, we were required to agree to a contract of professional best practices. On the surface they might seem simple and straightforward but the truth is that they capture the true complexity of partnering across sectors.

Principles of Partnership Brokering Good Practice

  1. Keep in touch with new developments in theory and practices of brokering partnerships
  2. Apply the most appropriate tools at each stage of the partnering process and innovate where necessary
  3. Take every opportunity to build partnering capacity in others
  4. Refrain from promoting a partnering process when aware of a realistic alternative that would deliver better outcomes
  5. Avoid taking actions as part of a brokering process that might involve risk without prior endorsement of these actions from all the parties likely to be impacted
  6. Demonstrate a responsible attitude by raising concerns of an ethical or legal nature with partners when necessary
  7. Know one’s own competence limitations and the circumstances in which it is appropriate to request assistance from, or hand over brokering responsibility to, others.

There is a great deal of complexity in multi-sector, or multi-stakeholder partnership, that require a  trust and faith during the creation of new partnerships. This can often be described as ephemeral or ambiguous by the business sector as a way of describing a need for minimum specifications and more social systems thinking rather than project sequences. Conversely, a community might describe the partnership between these two sectors as more rigorous and accountable as a way of describing its need for quantitative data, proof and human resources to support these actions.

Acting in the external partnership brokering roll requires me to assist both partners to stretch and building capacity to work in ways that are less traditional - essential building new skill sets. One of the first indicators of early partnership success are examples of stretch. It can look like commonly shared definitions for ideas and process where previously they had differing meaning. A good example is consultation.

Stretch It most always looks like unsettled conversations, cautions and discomfort or fear as partners must feel this tug as they think and work differently. It can also look like zeal or enthusiasm as possibility conversations look very different when sectors join forces. If examples of stretch behaviours are not present it indicates that the partners are not risking and new relationships are not truly forming.

Mistrustful or undermining behaviour, lack of transparency, absence of open and honest to goodness conversation, illustrate that the partners are protecting their turf which is the force against partnership. It means that the skills or capacity is not there yet. The players may be moving through "partnership like" activities but in truth they haven't gotten to first base - there is nothing new.

So if we agree that innovation requires failing then we, by default, are committing to the necessary task of communicating and mediating the conflict. As brokers, we must share the positions of all parties and convene the conversation which is made easier if the broker is the lead of the partnership.

2 Stretch questions I'm considering

  1. Who is responsible for the partnership analysis?
  2. Have the obstacles been clearly identified and appropriately communicated to all partners?

Collaborative Leadership, Elayne Greeley

Elayne Greeley

By Elayne Greeley

Elayne Greeley is a community developer and partnership facilitator through the Community Career and Employment Partnership (

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