A primary duty of any leader is to make decisions that move the work toward designated goals in the most efficient ways possible. Some of these decisions will be whether the work moves forward with the team at hand or through a partnership with another team or even another organization. Over the years, I’ve been a part of and led various teams to make these decisions. I’ve seen opportunities to partner with another group and sometimes that proved to be the best decision. Other times, there were unexpected realities and outcomes, and most agreed it would have been best to stick to the team already assembled, even if it took a little longer and everyone had to work a little harder. Each situation is going to be different depending on the competencies of the team you have, the deadlines for the project, and how much bandwidth your team members may have.

Here are a few other filtering questions I’ve learned that may help you to make the best decision for your circumstances. 

  1. Consider what strengths/competencies you receive.
    This is the first filter any of us ask before we enter into any agreement. It is the “what’s in it for me” angle. It is not a selfish question but a pragmatic one. It is also where the allure of a big aspiration can get away from you. I have been in situations where people in different organizations who share similar visions get together and imagine what they could do together. This dream stage can be fun, but if not reality-tested, can result in a project that will disappoint and frustrate both parties. It is prudent to take a realistic and measured look at what benefits a partnership might bring. The challenge is not to be overly optimistic or pessimistic about the possibilities the opportunity might hold. Look at it as a neutral, third-party person might while pausing to take time to examine the potential outcomes and the underlying motivations of each side. The motivations, whether positive or selfish, will guide the outcomes and affect how each party feels about the partnership, so it is wise to pay attention to these.
  2. Consider what efficiencies you will pick up
    Too often leaders become dazzled by aspirational outcomes of a potential partnership which could propel the work forward. Leading this way risks overlooking the benefits of potential efficiencies the partnership might bring. It is easy to look for the “home run” and overlook the benefits of what a series of “singles” produces. The primary role of the leader is to improve the work. Improved work will inevitably lead to improved results. What this looks like daily is removing unnecessary barriers, difficulties, and challenges team members face in their daily roles. In other words, a leader helps their team gain efficiency. This will build team culture and engagement every bit as effectively as “a big win” would. A properly aligned partnership can bring as much value in increasing efficiency as it can bring big results.
  3. Consider the trade-offs.
    An axiom all will recognize is you must give something to get something. This is going to be true of any partnership. Often a question of mission and values is at the heart of this. By partnering with another organization, you are effectively aligning with their mission and values. If this is not a match, then this will create many internal questions among your team. It may additionally create concerns with outside stakeholders. These become significant problems to manage, which might offset any potential benefits the agreement brings. Also to be considered is the risk of giving up what might have been proprietary work. If your organization has a reputation for certain processes or outcomes, you need to be careful about allowing an external group to speak into, shape, or control those. A hasty decision here can bring long-term consequences. Do not look to solve challenges that may seem urgent in the short term with an agreement that will risk long-term consequences.  

Partnerships can be a mutually beneficial relationship between two groups. What often is not considered is the time it can take to manage them. Ongoing, candid, and direct communication is key to managing expectations on both sides. Expectations must be clearly defined, measured, and aligned. Gaps easily seep into these areas and will be quickly followed by disappointments and eventual frustration. Joining another team can be a big win if everyone keeps expectations measured with regular and candid conversations about how the work is going.