Form a Partnership and Make It WorkForm a Partnership and Make It Work

How Do You Make Your Partnership Work?

Several men and women dressed in business attire exchange “high fives.”Here are some tips for maintaining a healthy and productive community partnership:

1. Create a positive and motivating mission.

A motivating mission statement saying what the community partnership wants to accomplish will help the group when challenges arise. Having an unclear purpose or set of goals might send the group in unplanned and unwanted directions. The partnership’s mission statement and goals may need to be refined as time goes on. For example, once work begins on the issue, the group may find that what it originally believed to be the best course of action has changed. Remain flexible to restructure as needed.

2. Establish strong management and leadership.

It is crucial to select a leader or a steering committee to lead your efforts. This is especially important for larger groups and helps establish responsibilities, timelines, and next steps. Unclear or unrealistic expectations can result in frustration, lost motivation, and miscommunication. Over time, leadership can be shared or rotated as needed. Leadership responsibilities include:

  • Encouraging participation from all members.
  • Structuring fair and productive group interactions.
  • Negotiating among organizations and individuals with different agendas.
  • Maintaining enthusiasm through good and difficult times.

3. Respect the community.

It is critical to respect and value the community’s cultural beliefs and to involve many different community members from the very beginning of the partnership. You need to learn as much as you can about the community and its culture.An adult supervises three youths painting over graffiti on an exterior wall. The community needs to have substantial input into the assessment process, selection of priority issues, and program content and methods. Any program selected to address the priority issues should include components of the community’s core cultural values. Not including key community leaders and members creates mistrust and causes alienation. Think about how to generate community interest and support and how to handle controversial issues in a respectful manner. It takes time to establish credibility and gain the trust of the community. “Hanging out” with community residents, asking questions, and using key informants are important ways to ensure that you gain a real understanding of, and respect for, the community’s beliefs and experiences. Do not take on highly controversial issues until working trust has been established. In addition, do not allow a vocal minority to dictate policy or action; all sectors of the community need to be engaged.

4. Establish clear ground rules and policies.

Establishing ground rules for how to conduct meetings, create records, make decisions, and work with the media will avoid future confusion. Members of the partnership can take turns leading or hosting meetings, if appropriate. Because differences in opinion are inevitable, create an open environment in which people feel comfortable expressing themselves. Early on, establish processes for addressing disagreements and reaching resolution. Neglecting to do so can cause problems when disagreements arise.

5. Create a clear action plan.

As action plans are developed for improving the lives of youth, be specific about who will do what, how it will be done, and by when. Not assigning responsibilities or deadlines for action can cause confusion and project delays. Periodically review your action plan and analyze its effectiveness. If your plan has not been effective, consider what factors have contributed to its limited success and rethink future strategies. If your plan has been successful, assess what factors contributed to this success.

6. Validate and respect members and staff.

As in all group processes, relationships are critical. Problems can arise when individual group members are territorial, have conflicting loyalties, or have difficult past or current personal relationships with other members of the group. Respect each member’s personal and professional obligations and ensure that the partnership’s expectations are reasonable. Allow time for meaningful discussion so that all people feel they are being heard. Respond actively to concerns when issues are raised and determine what needs to be done next. Validate members’ feelings and beliefs to help keep them motivated.

7. Address administrative barriers.

Administrative barriers such as inadequate staff support or funding may cause tension, making the community partnership less productive. Recognize the relationship between administrative barriers and project work, discuss those barriers, and do what is possible to address them. There may be times when your group needs outside guidance or resources to address issues or problems; ask for and accept help when necessary.

A group of twelve men and women stand outside in a circle. They are holding hands with their arms stretched into the air.8. Encourage group cohesion.

It is important to keep people motivated about the partnership’s efforts. Encourage the formation of relationships both within the group and with the larger community. Failing to have fun and celebrate successes will make members feel that the group’s work is “just another meeting” and may contribute to lower levels of commitment, motivation, and enthusiasm.

9. Set realistic expectations and goals.

A common problem for community partnerships is frustration and impatience in meeting short- or long-term goals. Sometimes it is better to meet small goals successfully than to set goals extremely high. Build on your successes as you strive to achieve the next set of goals. Conduct periodic reviews of your accomplishments and set explicit, achievable goals for each meeting. Over the long run, you will need to decide whether your group has achieved purpose and should disband or whether your efforts should continue and your organization be made permanent.

This section is adapted from Improving the Health of Adolescents & Young Adults: A Guide for States and Communities. Atlanta, GA: 2004. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health; Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Office of Adolescent Health; National Adolescent Health Information Center, University of California, San Francisco.