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Friday 28 June 2013

10 ways to engage essential but reluctant partners

I recently designed and delivered a workshop for a group of partnership working practitioners. One of the areas covered was how to engage essential but reluctant partners. After some discussion 10 very practical approaches were identified. 

If you are involved in the day to day practicalities of dealing with partners that are hard to reach and work with you may find some of the following helpful. 

What has worked for you? Let me know.

1. Market the benefits of partnership working to all partners

  • Highlight the benefits to partners from their perspective.
  • Make sure benefits are clear from the outset of the partnership and continually refer back to them.
  • Tell the stories of how partnership working has worked/made a difference (give feedback and motivate).
  • Give examples of good practice and good partnership work between members.

2. Gain the right partners and people from the outset

  • Clarify the commitment required from partnership members at the beginning.
  • Put work into gaining the names of key individuals and contacts.
  • When inviting people, send a distribution list and ask if there is anyone else that should be invited.
  • Get to understand the role and structure of the organisations you are working with.
  • Ask people within these organisations who would best represent the partnership.

3. Identify barriers to engagement

  • Ask! Consult! There may be physical problem i.e. they need a hearing loop.
  • Encourage openness about difficulties to engage (a partner organisation might be restructuring so might not be able to attend – what other ways can they keep in touch? What is the restructuring about and what will it achieve?).
  • Ask partners for their practical constraints around meetings dates/days/times/venues etc.
  • Contact non-attendees after meetings to identify any issues.
  • Hold quick critiques of meetings at their ends to identify issues etc.
  • Invite key contacts to lunch to help identify barriers.
  • Follow-up by phone if you suspect any bad feeling/concerns.
  • Have non-judgemental discussions re. barriers.
  • Survey partners to find out what stops them from being engaged (create an incentive to complete this survey to enhance its success/effectiveness).
  • Do a market analysis style questionnaire.
  • Ask them why they do not come – can you fit in with their needs?
  • Follow-up if they do not come – phone call, find out why? Can you make it easier for them to come (give them dates of the next meeting etc.)? Can you give them a different role e.g., observer if they do not have time to participate?

4. Gain a better understanding of partners’ ways of working

  • Work/job shadowing and swapping between partners.
  • Ask if partners could be convinced of the merits of a study tour to find out how partners work, their issues and how they address them.
  • Secondments to partner organisations.
  • Shadowing may lead to improved understanding.
  • Establish how organisations work at the beginning of the partnership – identify differences and agree a way of working that either recognises and embraces the differences or agrees on one way of working.
  • Include dialogue at meetings about how partners work and what they want from the partnership.

5. Ensure that capacity concerns of partners are listened to and provide reassurance that the partnership will be flexible in its expectations

  • Choose a skilled chairman
  • Have a clear, expected (and agreed) remit for the input expected from each partner.
  • Continually communicate and be flexible in response to changing circumstances.
  • Accept that not all partners need to agree/participate before the partnership can move forward.

6. Understand the needs and limitations of partners

  • Invite prospective partners to give a talk on their organisational limitations and needs.
  • Maybe allocate partners a 10-minute slot at meetings to say what their organisation does, its limitations etc. This would improve mutual understanding.

7. Inform, value and involve partners

  • Give timely information and give feedback.
  • Information sharing should be relevant to the partnership – perhaps by a short newsletter or e-mail.
  • Have a problem solving outdoor pursuit weekend/day.
  • Issue minutes promptly.
  • Get notes/action points from meetings out shortly after the meeting – do not wait until planning the next meeting.
  • Engage in dialogue.
  • Have a Christmas (or other special event) meal together.
  • “Cherish” partners.
  • Ask partners, either in or out of a meeting, what they need, want, do not want?
  • Survey employees at all levels within the organisation to find out their understanding of the partnership’s purpose.

8. Ensure continuity of contact during phases of change

  • Communicate with all stakeholders at all stages.
  • In times of change focus on partnership outcomes and review where contacts should be.
  • Have a nominated co-ordinator to review the list of contacts and circulate it to others as necessary.
  • Use team/organisational e-mails not individual ones within organisations.
  • Maybe have a rota of people attending from each partner organisation. Need only be 2 (if possible), this allows for extra input, sharing of workload and continuity if one leaves.
  • Create a week’s calendar with ongoing entries and appointments to assure continuity of contact regardless of individuals involved.

9. Engage and gain the understanding of top management

  • Invite top management to do some ‘hands on stuff’ so that they realise what is going on.
  • Let top level management have all the information to keep them up to speed with partnership activities.

10. Engage all levels (and types) of partner organisations and know that this has been achieved?

  • Take issues to different forums to ensure buy in; some partners and individuals may have access to some groups and not others.
  • Survey organisations to gauge awareness.
  • Survey employees at all levels within the organisation to find out their understanding of the partnership’s purpose.
  • If a representative agrees something at a meeting follow up to confirm.
  • Have high level commitment and contact in the partners’ organisations (to send a strong positive message through the rest of the partners’ organisations).
  • Improve communication between partners and also inside partner organisations.
  • Find out how partners cascade actions within their organisations.
  • Get different representatives from partner organisations to take it in turns to come to meetings, so engaging different employees from different levels in the organisation.
  • Be aware of and circulate the organisational charts of partner organisations.
  • Ask how partners are informing their organisations.

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