Ensuring effective collaboration in cross-sector partnerships: three valuable lessons for partnership managers

By Leona Henry

Cross-sector partnerships (CSPs) have become a popular form of collaboration to address various sustainability matters, including plastic pollution, fair labor conditions or sustainable forestry. In CSPs, actors from different sectors bundle their resources to address such issues more efficiently than they would do on an individual basis. Most CSPs include a mix of NGOs, governmental organizations and firms.

Managing CSPs

Oftentimes, CSPs are managed by a single actor or a group of designated actors who are in charge of the partnership’s overall coordination. One of the major challenges for CSP managers is to accommodate the wide variety of ideas and interests that collide in such partnerships, while at the same time ensuring swift decision-making and operational progress.

Three valuable lessons for CSP managers

Based on insights from my latest research project, here are some counterintuitive, yet insightful lessons for CSP managers who find themselves in the position of navigating this challenge:

1. Not every task in the partnership has to be completed collectively

While we tend to believe that CSPs are all about doing everything together at all times, sometimes overall levels if collaboration might suffer by following this recipe only. At times, it can be very effective to have one actor group engage in a particular task that matches their expertise while letting others work on a different issue. Separating actor groups momentarily and where applicable avoids time-consuming conflicts and negotiations, which in turn ensures that things actually get done in the long run.

2. It is legitimate and effective to emphasize individual benefits at times

While the collective effort is what ultimately counts in CSPs, at times it can be worthwhile to also highlight the individual benefits actors may gain from participating in the collaboration. Doing so helps actors remind them of why they are part of the partnership in the first place and makes visible synergies that might not be related to the overall goal directly, but nevertheless ensure its achievement.

3. Late joiners should be welcomed with open arms but integrated carefully

A final thought that often prevails in the CSP context, is the idea that all actors have to be involved from the very beginning to ensure a successful partnership outcome. The opposite is actually true: Late joiners can be extremely valuable as they see the partnership from a fresh perspective which can lead to beneficial insights.

However, for these late joiners to be valuable to the entire partnership, and not be seen as the actors that “sneak in” at the very end, they need to be integrated carefully through a customized onboarding process and doable tasks that can be completed right away. If late joiners are not able to start contributing right away, their value is easily lost.

As CSPs are a promising means of addressing sustainability issues, I hope that these insights are worthwhile to managers in such partnerships.


About the author

Leona Henry is an Assistant Professor of Organisation Studies at Tilburg University (the Netherlands). Her research focuses on multi-stakeholder collaboration around sustainability and the practical relevance of research. This blog post is based on a joint research project with Andreas Rasche (Copenhagen Business School) and Guido Möllering (Reinhard-Mohn-Institute for Management, University Witten/ Herdecke)

Image by Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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