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Let’s pull together and dance!


Christine Carlin explores what makes a successful partnership

Partnership. Stop for a moment and consider how often you read or write that word each week? I imagine quite a lot. From ‘working in partnership, creating effective partnerships, demanding equal partnership’ to ‘building successful partnerships’ – it is part of our daily lexicon.

Grant applications demand evidence of ‘strong partnership working’. No self-respecting Government policy would dare appear without the promise of ‘engaging in partnership’ – usually with the Third Sector. 

So that’s good then?  We are great at partnerships? Job done!

Alas, I fear the rhetoric does not always live up to the reality; and, too often, the Third Sector role is still not one of an equal partner. 

So what makes for a successful and sustainable partnership?

There are lots of definitions to be found in management books. But - work with me on this - I think evidence of what makes for a strong partnership appears on a Saturday evening in that extravaganza Strictly Come Dancing. There, beneath the fake tan, the costumes and the truckloads of hairspray, lie the ingredients for a positive collaboration.

First, both partners must share the same Vision– and agree the Plan for the dance. If one of you sets off on the Tango and the other starts a Viennese Waltz, then you are both going to end up on your Paso Doble.

Next, success depends on strong co-ordination, honesty, drawing on individual skills, strength, agility plus great, two-way communication.

It also requires keeping up morale when all seems lost. Both sides need to find courage and determination to work through any issues (and pain) believing firmly that the end goal is worth it. 

Finally, most of all, it takes practice - and a willingness to share and to learn from mistakes.

As we begin (at last!) to see light at the end of this dark pandemic tunnel, hope is growing for life to return to normal. Experts say our Economy will bounce back strongly. Yet, for many, recovery will be measured, not in weeks or months, but in years. Poverty, loneliness, grief, poor physical and mental health: this pandemic has changed the course of millions of lives. The recent Children’s Mental Health Week dialogue hinted at the challenges ahead for our babies, children and young people, our families, and communities; and our future generations. 

The Third Sector will be #Never More Needed because statutory services alone will not hold the answer. But this needs more than merely ‘engaging with the Third Sector’ - it calls for true partnerships that respect the qualities of each side. This goes for the Third Sector too. Let’s look out for one another. Let’s demand real partnership working, not a pastiche. Let’s challenge where we see opportunities lost, not just for ourselves, but for others. 

As in Strictly, the best partners help each other to succeed and, bear in mind, the smaller partner is often the key to success. Remember the famous quote about Ginger Rogers: "She did everything that Fred Astaire did – just backwards and in high heels!"

This is our time. Let’s pull together, and dance. 

Christine Carlin is director of Home-Start Scotland



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Lynda Boyce
21 days ago

Your article makes me step back and look again at our current situations and where partnership could be improved. It's easy to lose sight of the basic, minor details which if not carried out correctly can result in disaster. Thank you Christine.