How to make partnerships sparkle

Mike Stevenson / 18/02/2016/ No Comments



Partnerships are as old as humanity. At their best they produce a value far greater than the sum of parts. 1 + 1 = 3. How many great families are born out of great partnerships? But, in the world of public services I fear the word has lost it potency. That’s why I prefer the word collaboration. It sounds more purposeful and urgent. I also sense that ‘partnership’ in the public sector has become an end in itself. We have a ‘Partnership’ is not a result. It is base camp for an ambitious journey. There are named partnerships all across the nation. Too many I see are paralysed because the participating organisations come with their own narrow agendas and cultural restraints.

During a visit to Ontario a few years ago I heard the head of Cultural Strategy talk of ‘random collisions’ as the catalyst for many of the Region’s new ideas and highly productive collaborations. He talked of people brought together and sparking. But, he had strong words for participants:


“If you have come to represent your organisation – forget it. If though, you are here to represent our ambitious vision – a warm welcome.”


Ambition fires people up

Over the years, I have become expert at bringing disparate organisations together around a shared purpose. To form a partnership is never the aim – it is to achieve something far greater than the organisations can ever achieve in isolation. We do not talk of where people are from but where they want to get to and more. We do not talk of what people do today but what they can do tomorrow and with the inestimable benefit of having others add value through their knowledge and experience. Who they represent is immaterial to the cause. It is what they can add that really matters.

No egos and strong leadership

Organisational egos have no place in making the kind of progress we need to make in health, social care, housing and education. I was appalled at one partnership meeting to hear the introductions of those attending take up more than half of the allotted time for the whole event. By the time this endless round of personal CV’s was concluded, the energy was gone and the purpose diluted.

Without strong leadership, partnerships will simply create new bureaucracies, lose sight of their purpose or at best create a vision and a plan designed by a committee. Progress will be slow and cumbersome and talents will be squandered.

How Cirque de Soleil and Reebok did it

Imaginative collaborations create big results. A chance encounter between executives from Cirque de Soleil and Reebok led to a collaboration that created huge benefits for each. Reebok consolidated its position in the women’s sportswear market while Cirque Soleil gained global exposure to previously inaccessible markets.

How did they achieve this? It was a simple formula. Rebook defined new exercise circuits and Cirque du Soleil created the choreography, inspiration, music and backgrounds. The result was Jukar, a new line of exercise accessories inspired by Cirque du Soleil shows which were distributed at gyms around the world.

I love the playground in the USA that was designed by children, fine-tuned by professional designers and then advanced by engineering students from a nearby college. The result, a playground dreamed up by children that generates electricity for the local community each time it is used. That is collaboration at its best.

Uncorking many talents and ideas

We have an opportunity now to combine collective talents to design and deliver solutions to big social and economic challenges. We will only do so if we can galvanise the knowledge, experience and expertise of communities, companies and voluntary and public service agencies.

Yes, that means public and private collaborations. Why not? If we can improve confidence, health and wellbeing, increase prosperity and provide fresh opportunity for all our citizens – then prejudices, egos and cultures cannot stand in our way.


We can no longer afford endless discussions, unproductive meetings, slow decision-making, long timescales and low productivity.


Through Thinktastic, I have found ways to cut through barriers, create shared vision and design an action plan that inspires people to produce. Bring me in to lead your next partnership event and see people sparkle.

It’s time to ‘uncork’ the true potential of collaboration.

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