What Is Partnership Development?

January 10, 2022 3 minute read

Human chain showing strength of partnership development.

At its simplest, a partnership is what you need for a problem you can’t solve alone. Partnerships allow two or more organizations to combine their strengths, resources, perspective, knowledge, networks, and reach to solve a shared challenge or seize a new opportunity effectively.

There are all kinds of partnerships. At Resonance, we focus on partnerships for sustainable impact. Today, we need collaboration to solve our most pressing global challenges and create a brighter future ahead. This is true across every sector: Indeed, nearly nine in ten executives surveyed by Harvard Business Review agree that partnership development is essential to keep up with changing business models in times of rapid and unpredictable change.

We help companies build pre-competitive and cross-sector partnerships to advance sustainable supply chains, achieve impact targets, and unlock new markets. And through this work, we know that process is key. How you go about building and managing new collaboration can have tremendous implications for your ultimate impact.

Before reviewing the five stages, let's clearly define the partnership development process

What Is Partnership Development? 

Partnership development is the process of identifying, vetting, launching, and managing a mutually beneficial partnership between two or more organizations.

Below, we show you how to succeed across each phase of partnership development–from the problem and partner identification through launch and management of partnership projects–to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.

What Are the Five Stages of Partnership Development?

From initial strategy to scaling impact, here are the five stages of partnership development:

1. Partnership Strategy Development

Before you can create a successful partnership, you need to develop a clear strategy. A well-established partnership strategy defines the problem you seek to solve, lays the groundwork for internal buy-in and commitment, and maps your team’s key assets and gaps. 

Outputs for the partnership strategy phase include:

  • Partnership problem statement 
  • Map of core organizational goals and KPIs for key teams, relevant to the partnership problem statement
  • List of target markets and geographies for partnership 
  • Map of organizational assets and gaps for partnership

2. Partnership Opportunity Mapping

There is a universe of potential partners out there–and most of them are probably unknown to you. By tapping into local and global networks and using tools like systems thinking, you stand a better chance of connecting with organizations that have the motivation and capabilities to partner effectively. 

Key outputs for partnership opportunity mapping include:

  • Partner landscape assessment
  • Prioritized list of partnership concepts and potential partners

3. Partnership Design and Facilitation 

A true strategic partnership is shared from the ground up. That means working together to co-design a partnership business model that leverages each partner’s interests and strengths to effectively achieve shared goals. An experienced third-party moderator can help set the stage for success, by helping partners build trust, retain focus, and address organizational or personnel conflicts before they become deal-breakers.

Key outputs for the partnership design and facilitation phase include:

  • Co-creation process or workshop
  • Partnership concept paper (with key goals, activities, and roles and responsibilities)
  • Signed partnership agreement

4. Partnership Adaptive Management and Implementation

Partners can put out a wonderful press release announcing their new partnership–but still come up short when it’s time to actually do the work. It’s crucial to think through partnership roles and responsibilities and match tasks to timelines. Communicate often, report on progress regularly, empower key team members, and prioritize strong, adaptive partnership management.

Key outputs for the partnership implementation phase include:

  • Collaborative annual (or quarterly) partnership activity plans
  • Impact monitoring metrics and plan
  • Communications and reporting plan

5. Scaling and Sustaining Impact

From the very start, you should be thinking about what comes next for partnership sustainability and scale. This can look quite different depending on what your partnership set out to achieve. But the key question is: What would it take to grow our impact and make it last?

Key outputs include:

  • Partnership sustainability plan
  • Map of pathways to scale, and corresponding action plan

Leveraging Partnership Development to Solve Shared Problems

Collaboration with other businesses, foundations, NGOs, and donors will be essential to address 21st-century business problems like climate change, global pandemic, and significant supply chain disruption. By taking the time and resources to develop a strategy, stakeholders stand a better chance of partnering with impact. 

To guide them on their way, cross-sector changemakers should consult with experienced partnership development experts to learn how they can leverage collaboration to solve pressing problems and create sustainable impact.

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If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.