10 Real Signs of Partnership

Jocelyne Daw with Yeshe Smith


Since I started my consulting firm over seven years ago, partnership – brokering, coaching, training and advocating for them, has been a central part of my practice.  But sadly, partnership has become a blanket phase to describe many “business as usual” organizational relationships.  It is beginning to lose its true meaning.  This is especially disillusioning when the term ‘partnership’ is used as a soother, a calmative, to disguise the real challenge and struggle of collaborating meaningfully. Here are ten signs you’re in a true partnership NOT just another traditional relationship.1. Partnerships share the rewards AND the risks. The Oxford Dictionary defines partnership as an “ongoing relationship, where risks and rewards are shared”. Many so-called “partnerships” do not share or want to share risks.2. Partnerships are a long-term relationship grounded in mutual benefit. The most successful partnerships manage to draw partners in and ensure that every partner achieve not only the partnership goals but their own goals and objectives. By creating mutual benefits, alliances can offer access to new expertise, relationships, and assets that increase credibility, capacity, and capital. With mutual benefit, engagement and commitment are built.3. Partnerships are based on equity. Equity does not imply equality. Equity requires all partners to be valued and engaged and their contributions respected. Building equity is critical, since power imbalance is often cited as a real challenge in a partnership. Power shifts when power is shared.


4. Partnerships thrive on trust.

Open, honest communications and fully disclosed agendas among and between partners build a partnership that can thrive.

5. Partnerships celebrate the diversity of the partners.

There is a tendency to try and minimize differences and focus on what those involved have in common rather than what makes them different in an attempt to avoid conflict. This presupposes that differences = divergence and seriously risks partnerships being developed at a superficial level with everyone remaining in their respective comfort zones. This approach will most likely not maximize the opportunity to build on diversity (of values, culture, key skills, approaches, potential contributions etc.) – so in effective partnering it is important to help partners really get to know and understand each other to be able to relish and build on diversity.

6. Partnerships co-create the projects & programs.

This is a critical difference between funding relationships, often rebadged as partnerships and genuine partnership. By working together to design and co-create the project and programs partners use each other’s strengths and assets to build something where the sum is greater than its individual parts.

7. Partnerships share a common

purpose AND

accept and help partners

achieve individual goals


A shared vision and common purpose bring partners together, but what makes a partnership is supporting and helping each other achieve individual goals.


8. Partnerships have all partners contribute resources.

There are many different types of contributions and yet often it is only financial contributions that are considered valuable.   Resources brought by each partners can include knowledge, connections, credibility, and/or human resource support.  Every partner contributing and valued for their contributions, is central to a successful partnership.

9. Partnerships embrace mutual accountability.

Partners are compelled to deliver on their commitments knowing their actions impact others and the success of the partnership as well as the partnership project.

10. Partnerships take a principled approach to their work.

Partners’ find new ways to work together based on a mutual commitment to equity, openness, and mutual benefit that celebrate and build on individual organizations’ diverse strengthens and assets.

Let’s use the word “Partnership” with intent

It is disillusioning to have business as usual rebranded as partnership. As my Australia-based Partnership Brokers Association (PBA) colleague, Yeshe Smith adds “We also do the concept a disservice when we describe it in ways that are only meaningful in the NGO and civil society sector. Talking about ‘walking together’ or ‘sharing a journey’ makes it easy for people to dismiss real partnership as a soft, largely rhetorical exercise, which can be achieved if we are good people with good intentions.”I believe in the power of partnership as a key way forward to dealing with the wicked, complex problems of the 21st century. But let’s start using the word with the same level of care and attention required to make them a success.Next blog:  Building a Partnership Culture

NOTE: Partnerships and collective impact initiatives are hard work and can be highly challenging. The Partnership Brokers Association's Partnership Brokers Training course is highly sought after and will be offered this fall in Edmonton and Toronto. Click here for more details!