Ten Steps to Successfully Working with External Partners

Whether you’re working on a process improvement project with your suppliers or tackling a community health issue, you might find yourself working in a coalition with a number of organizations outside of your own. But coalitions are fragile and without proper leadership, nurturing, and follow through, they can quickly disintegrate. Here are 10 steps to making sure yours doesn’t get derailed. 

If you ever find yourself having to tackle a challenging community issue – for instance, a health issue like obesity or substance abuse – you will find yourself working with a  coalition of community members in order to make a measurable collective impact. Coalitions do not just “happen”-- rather they are the result of an individual or organization emerging to take the leadership role of the coalition. The leader may be from a government body, community organizations, faith groups, or other service organizations. But above all the operative word is leader.

What can you do to more effectively lead a coalition? Below are ten suggested steps to help facilitate a successful coalition:

Step #1: Preparation 

Proper planning prior to events is a major duty of the coalition leader. This is initiated by arranging the venue, inviting the right participants, involving any high profile community guests to give support, and engaging the right internal staff members.

Step #2: Price

The leader needs to cost out what this coalition will need for funding before launching. Expenses can be prohibitive for running meetings, space, supplies, staffing, etc. The coalition leader can look for in-kind contributions from coalition members or grant funding to help provide meeting space or use of clerical staff. It is best to have the funding issues out of the way before starting.

Step #3: Process

Developa process to be used to involve and engage community members in the exploration of the  issue impacting the community. A process is needed that will help the coalition to prioritize and identify which issues to focus on. A relatively straight forward quality improvement project approach might be deployed. The process selected will depend on the breadth and depth of the community issue.

Step #4: Plan

This is the what’s and how’s of operating the coalition– meeting times, roles and responsibilities, expectations, improvement targets, process to be used, etc..

Step #5: People

It is difficult at times to foster collaboration between multiple community stakeholders since everyone has their turf to protect. That is why coalitions need dedicated people (internal staff and external partners) who will participate fully, be on time for meetings, complete assignments between meetings, and share resources. The coalition leader  needs to coach the team and emphasize a team oriented environment to help guide and grow the coalition. This team environment is necessary to help discuss strategies and solutions in a positive way. The biggest challenge a leader will face is getting people involved and keeping them involved.

Step #6: Participation

It is important to pick the right people who have expertise in the community issue being addressed. But even with the right people, keeping them actively engaged can be challenging. They must agree to be full and active participants in the process. If they do not fully participate and attend all meetings, you will find that the coalition is always catching people up at the next meeting and progress will be slow. However, competing priorities and other responsibilities can hinder full participation even among the most committed.  Meetings must be run effectively and efficiently with clear assignments and on a set time frame. By doing so you recognize that time is one of the most valuable resources your community stakeholders have to give. It is important that members have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the meeting in order to feel that it was a productive use of their time. 

Step #7: Product

It is important for the coalition to define who the customers for the actions and interventions are. This will help the coalition understand what the final output will look like and the content of the final deliverable product.

Step #8: Place

When holding the coalition meeting, have plenty of meeting space so everyone is comfortable, have areas for breakouts that give privacy for sensitive discussions, and have plenty of supplies, flip charts and wall space to post them. 

Step #9: Promotion

This is the messaging part of the process and it defines how the communications between meetings, to the general public, and to the community are designed and delivered. Some coalitions have a shared website where meeting minutes, research articles, comments, and suggestions can be shared between coalition team members.

Step #10: Praise

It is always important to recognize each individual and the organizations they represent in all material that is distributed internally and externally. People want to be recognized for their contributions and it makes them feel like they are appreciated for the effort they put forth.

In our experience, practicing these ten steps will help ensure that a coalition performs successfully and prospers.