A few years ago I ran some soup making classes as I love making soup and it is SO easy to do. We had several women in each class, all equally enthusiastic about not only learning to make soup, but getting to taste the results of their endeavours afterwards.
Everyone had a copy of the recipe, and we divided up the tasks – some chopped, others stirred and as we got closer to the end, another group took on blending the ingredients. Then armed with a glass of wine, we sat and enjoyed our food and as a team effort, were pretty pleased with ourselves.
In many ways, it's a bit like forming an alliance with someone who shares an interest in working with the same demographic and it seems mutually beneficial to work on a project together.
When an alliance works well, it means that you've determined and agreed on the end goal – the results you both want to achieve. You've assessed and worked out who does what, drawing on the unique skills of each partner. And just like the group with the soup, together you make it work. Together you end up with a richer experience and outcome.
But what are the key ingredients? Trust. Mutual respect. Common goals.
You have to trust and rely on the other person to deliver what they say they will deliver. It's also crucial that you respect each other, and respect and value the person's contribution to the work. Without that respect, the partnership may not survive the first bump in the road, especially if one partner secretly views her skills as superior and really sees herself as the "senior partner."
While making soup is easy, making partnerships work is way harder. It has to be a win-win situation so everyone is gaining from the venture. While a handshake used to suffice, these days it is much better to have all the details documented, including an out-clause, so if the going gets tough, you can move on and extricate yourself from a working relationship that is no longer viable.
I have been involved in and observed many partnerships over the years. Often they fail because at the end of the day, both partners want different things out of the deal. Inevitably one is more ambitious and wants to expand or sell, while the other is quite happy with the status quo. Or one wants to make thousands of dollars, while the other is less focused on the financial gains.
Sometimes the breakdown is caused by a personality clash. While initially in the "honeymoon" period all seems to be going well, at some point, one partner may show a side to himself that you hadn't recognized before, and which you don't like.
When you have different values or observe someone being treated with disrespect, it can be hard to continue as if nothing has happened. With a crack in the veneer, it often reaches a point when one person wants out.
As a community developer, much of my role was bringing groups together. They maybe had a common goal or interest, but had never thought of combining their efforts to achieve a stronger, better outcome. Being the connector, bringing the players together was a part of the work I loved, especially if it became the catalyst for positive change.
When I worked at our local women's centre, we partnered with the local health department to develop a women's health diary and guide. It was a big success and we were invited to present at a provincial public health conference.
One of the first questions we were asked was who was the chair, who took the lead in the project. I think we shocked the audience when we explained that no one did. At each stage of the project, the person with the skill set took over and then like a relay race, passed on the baton to the next person so she could do her "bit."
It worked well. Why?
- We shared the end goal – for women to be informed about and take charge of their health.
- We each brought different skill sets to the project – health knowledge, writing and editing skills, graphic design.
- We liked and enjoyed working together.
- There was mutual respect. We didn't get caught up in power and control, our decisions were reached by consensus.
Like a good pot of soup, we sprinkled some of our own special ingredients into the mix – like laughter and fun. Now that makes for a recipe for success.
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