What is partnering? Partnering is an approach to conflict based on prevention and pro-action. When two or more organizations work together on a project, no matter what the size or how many, partnering fosters a collaborative working relationship of clear communication and mutual respect, where "team building" between separate organizations best uses resources and attains goals. The basic premise of partnering is that the success of every project relies upon good faith, not legal enforcement, and that good faith can be built through specific activities. Partnering also sends the message that working together can be fun.
How does partnering work? Partnering gives people a chance to agree on how to resolve conflicts, how to create common goals, and on how to keep improving. There are basically four phases to a partnering: agreement to partner, alignment meetings, a main workshop, and follow-up activities. The first step, agreement to partner, can be initiated by any of the stakeholders, possibly by holding an information session. Ideally, partnering is adopted as soon as the project first begins to crystallize, so that it can be included in discussions and in the budget. Alignment meetings ensure that the needs and interests of participants are reflected in the main workshop agenda. The main workshop, usually two days begins with training in basic principles and skills for effective problem-solving, then pulls the various groups together for brainstorming and decision-making. A signed Charter crystallizes their basic operating principles, and a Dispute Resolution Ladder lists phone numbers of the appropriate person to call in case of a problem. The follow-up activities include consensus-building meetings, planning sessions, progress reports and perhaps additional training. The RAI team stays on call throughout the project, being able to act as facilitators, mediators, and ombuds.
The mark of a sound partnering process is tailoring. We work with partners right from the beginning of a project to identify needs and goals, including budgetary restraints, and build these into the partnering design. RAI facilitators are experienced in a wide variety of domains, and are leaders in innovative applications of ADR processes.
What are its benefits? The most obvious benefits of partnering have been in reducing the amount of time and money spent on conflict, particularly in litigation. Studies done in the construction industry show other significant qualitative benefits: project performance with improved project design and management, innovation and safety, and flexible resource allocation. Working relations show increased mutual understanding, better communication, improved team spirit, and a willingness to work together to solve problems. Issue resolution demonstrates timely and effective intervention, fewer meetings and less paperwork, equitable sharing of risks and bnefitts, mutual accountability and an ability to adapt i n changing circumstance.