Julie Mundy is the Business Partnerships Platform’s Partnerships Advisor andan accredited Partnership Broker. Julie is a member of the Partnership Brokers Association’s Strategic Team and an experienced independent partnerships specialist.
Hi Julie, thanks for joining us today. Firstly, can you tell us what a partnership broker is and how did you come to it as a career?
A partnership broker is someone who pays attention to how people work together – not the what, but the how. Our main objective is to help partners create a strong partnership that optimises the value-add for all the partners concerned. On a day-to-day level, we provide practical advice and guidance throughout a partnership.
Brokers also help the partners to get the most out of the partnerships. This is particularly true in areas of innovation – such as the Business Partnership Platform. We bring organisations who typically would not work together, across sectors, from the government to business to NGOs, universities to community groups.
The language and jargon from each sector is different, as are the systems and processes. Helping partners to get the most out of working together – despite these differences – is an important part of the role.
What can people expect when working with a partnership broker?
The role of the broker is to help everyone see each other’s perspectives. What we often observe in partnerships is people smoothing down differences because they are uncomfortable about the potential for conflict. When that happens issues just keep coming up unless they are dealt with.
A broker can ask the questions that nobody wants to ask, and in that way surface tension and conflict and work through it in a safe and productive way. If you can build enough trust to carry it through you can get to some really great outcomes.
Could you explain the BPP’s partnership model?
We invest a lot of time upfront in the building and scoping stage of the partnership. We are paying attention to what the partnership will achieve but also in getting to know each other, being clear about the expectations of all partners, and setting up the relationship. At this point, we have a neutrally brokered conversation to agree on a Ways of Working document.
As the partnership progresses the partnership broker is there to help resolve any differences and facilitate a regular health check, to help the partnership keep on track, address any issues and continuously improve. If staff have left, the broker can help build the relationship between new people in the partnership to ensure momentum can be maintained. At the end of the partnership, the broker can help partners work out how the close-out will be managed – will the partnership be closed, or scale-up? Will it become business-as-usual and self-sustaining? Will it evolve and innovate? And how can that be managed in a collaborative way?
For a big organisation like the Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), working in partnership provides an opportunity to engage directly with partners on the ground who are doing innovative initiatives and to learn from them – particularly about the way businesses can bring a different value to the table compared to more traditional development partners. Partners are also more open to DFAT bringing additional value to the table. A lot of potential partners don’t realise what DFAT can bring over and above money, and that’s what the BPP can offer – access to DFAT’s networks, convening power and technical and development expertise.
What are the most common pitfalls of working in partnership and how would you avoid it?
Set and forget. Don’t think partnerships just happen, that you have an agreement, and everything flows on from that. You need to pay light-touch attention to the partnership itself throughout in order to deliver a project effectively and efficiently. That’s why we schedule a regular healthcheck to check in on the partnership and help resolve any concerns before they become an issue, as well as to discuss ways we could improve or add value – good partnerships are never static.
Watch out for reverting to business as usual when things get stressful. Working in partnership is more similar to how you would behave in your personal life, it’s a humanity driven approach to working – being open and principled and treating your partners as you would wish to be treated. In an organisational setting, people work to their organisation’s goals. However, when people are working for organisations and are under pressure, it’s not uncommon that they forget their commitments to working collaboratively and openly, and just revert to ‘business as usual’. A real test of partnerships is how they work and behave when under stress. Remaining open and collaborative is important if you are to realise the benefits of partnering – it may well be that your partners can help solve your problems!
Beware of assumptions. People make assumptions all the time without asking, which can impact negatively on the partnership. For example, if someone doesn’t turn up to a meeting, it may not be that they’re not interested or committed, maybe they don’t have endorsement from their boss; it’s their technology that doesn’t work (when engaging remotely); maybe there’s something happening in their personal life, maybe its language; maybe they don’t feel like they will be heard. In all miscommunications there are assumptions. What I would say is don’t assume, just ask.
How has COVID-19 impacted partnerships?
In COVID we’ve seen a big shift to remote partnering so people can’t sit in the same room together in a way that you normally would do when getting to know each other and building relationships. It’s really put a spotlight on: what does it mean to develop partnerships and relationships remotely?
What we’re learning is that you can do it, but it’s different, and it takes more attention and more structured attention. Rather than jumping onto zoom and straight into the agenda, are you building in time to do the meet and greet as you would if you were walking into a building together? Don’t forget the humanity of engaging just because you’re doing it online.
Surprisingly, there are also advantages to remote partnering – it can be an equity building measure. It’s harder to speak across people when you’re all on zoom, providing the meeting is structured and facilitated well. Surprisingly, we are also discovering that partners are often franker with raising concerns and coming up with solutions online than in face to face meetings.