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Irma Becerra is president of Marymount University, a comprehensive doctoral-granting university known for its innovative curriculum.
Inter-organizational partnerships have always been a great path to business growth and success. From building new partnerships to strengthening old ones, there is so much to gain for all involved. Successful collaborations often involve the coming together of partners who are able to complement each other to bring positive change.
When needs are identified and met, organizations flourish. Take, for instance, when corporations and universities come together and realize mutually beneficial gains. Students determined to bring their skills and talents to an innovative work environment can meet the needs of corporations intent on diversifying. Corporate partnerships can lead to phenomenal opportunities for students, allowing them to grow and develop their talents. Corporations gain access to bright and innovative talent for growth and success. To say such arrangements are win-win scenarios is an understatement!
Here are a few things to remember when your goal is to develop mutually beneficial relationships.
Start by gaining insights into the prospective partner’s organizational needs.
When I meet with leaders who may be good partners, I ask questions to clarify their needs. Do they have specific worries during these economic times? What are their talent and skill needs? Such questions open the door to frank conversations that have the potential to solve the biggest problem of the day: securing talent in a tight employee market. Obstacles are opportunities, and finding solutions means securing work for others.
Active listening is essential when the goal is to truly understand if you can bring something valuable to another organization. By engaging with other leaders and listening intently to their concerns and worries, it can become clear what they want and whether you have the resources to meet their needs.
Recognize and proactively fill talent gaps.
Leaders today often face significant challenges regarding attracting and retaining talent, and losing valued employees brings the added threat of destabilization. No sector is left untouched by the headache of securing talent and filling skills gaps lost when employees unexpectedly leave positions. Organizations thrive when optimally staffed with dedicated and productive employees, all working toward achieving common goals. Therefore, filling newly open positions can be daunting when employees abruptly resign. In these scenarios, things can get tricky fast.
One huge benefit of partnering with other organizations in lean times is that it can be an excellent way to fill talent gaps. For instance, organizations intent on cultivating educated and highly skilled teams often seek partnerships with universities to tap the skills of enthusiastic students.
Face-to-face meetings promote trust.
While video and phone calls are sufficient once you have firmly established a solid working relationship, I am a big fan of in-person meetings in the early days of building business partnerships. My logic on this issue is simple: Eye contact and personal interaction go far in building trust. Once you have identified an organization or company you think would prove ideal to partner with, I recommend asking for an initial face-to-face meeting.
Communication is vital. After all, too much is at stake to risk mixed signals or misunderstandings that often occur when people message back and forth. Also, meeting a prospective partner where they conduct business often provides insight into an organization—a good thing when considering a partnership. While I keep a hectic schedule, I often meet with prospective partners away from campus a few times each week.
These meetings are often enlightening and leave both parties with a fresh perspective on business. Another benefit of meeting face-to-face is that a simple discussion on one topic can lead to other ways to collaborate – not something that commonly happens via email messaging.
Don’t drop the ball—always remember to follow up!
We live in busy times—therefore, it can take several follow-up calls or emails to get the ball rolling after an initial meeting. Sometimes a brief and polite email to inquire about where things are can get things moving in the right direction. As discussed in a paper I collaborated on about interaction technology, building trust among organizations requires the management of commitments among entities, with each successful completion of commitments increasing the confidence among those involved.
Feel free to start with a small initiative. Great inter-organizational partnerships can develop from the smallest of initiatives. Sometimes building momentum takes many interactions, time and multiple meetings. A simple agreement to support each other’s efforts in a shared initiative can snowball into years of mutually beneficial collaborations. Also, it may be necessary to convince prospective partners that the arrangement will be mutually beneficial. An enthusiastic email outlining what you expect to accomplish can appease many undue worries.
Identify the right people from each organization to work together.
Once you seal a partnership, put the right people from each organization in touch to keep up the momentum. For instance, I saw excellent results when an organization’s chief human relations representative joined one of my deans in the trenches with actionable goals. Leaders should step back and let their people do what they do best to grow the partnership. If things stall, a quick email asking for an update can keep things from going too far off track. I find that a simple email along the lines of, “How are things progressing?” or “Where are we on the initiative?” can be enough to ensure everyone is on the same page and that progress continues.
I have also found that leadership integrity matters greatly in successful inter-organizational partnerships. Establishing the relationship is only the beginning—the real work comes down to communication, consistency, delivering on promises in the agreed-upon time and showing up in the partnership with respect and consideration.
Forging mutually beneficial inter-organizational partnerships can be a boon for business. Prioritizing growth through collaboration with equally strong partners is a tried and true way to business success. Leaders have much to gain and more to share when partnering with organizations willing to grow together.