Principles of a Good Partnership For Indigenous Organisations

Principles of a Good Partnership For Indigenous Organisations

How well a partnership operates depends on people more than procedures. Good governance of a partnership rests on building structures around people.

There are three components of what makes a good partnership: -

  1. Behaviours;
  2. Structures; and
  3. Governance and Management Processes.


What you want to achieve from the partnership indicates the kind of attitudes you need to bring to the partnership.

For example, if what you want to achieve is co-operation about the management of Country, then the attitude you need to bring is one open to co-operation. If you want to build a business that will carry on for the foreseeable future, then you need to bring an attitude appropriate to the building of a long-term relationship with your partners where you are open and honest and willing to negotiate fairly.

There are, however, some keystone behaviours that you need to bring to any partnership, and these are: -

  • Respect and fairness – no relationship can survive where partners don’t respect each other, constantly work to “do one better” over the other and attempt to gain an unfair advantage. Your community or corporation has to understand that even if you gain a short-term advantage, over the longer term there is potentially reputational damage.
  • Ownership – partners have equity in a partnership, however, sometimes, their behaviours don’t show this. When something goes wrong, instead of looking at the issues and helping to fix the problem, a partner may just walk away, perhaps citing that it is not their problem since they did not cause it. The ownership behaviour means that you need to take on each problem or win as your own and understand that it takes all of you to really solve the problem.
  • Good communications – partners should communicate all the time. However, the number of times you communicate doesn’t necessarily mean that you have good communications. Communications between partners are sometimes formal (meetings that are minuted and that formally decide on things) or informal (quick but meaningful meetings that pass on opinions and make informal agreements and build relationships). What you communicate should be based on respectfulness and honesty and fairness.

One aspect of a good partnership is also how people with different experiences and life-skills, as well as different levels of authority or training or knowledge, work together. A good partnership uses all the skills available to it to build and even better way of working. Therefore, people should be willing to offer their skills, and they should be also open to learning from others.

In order to make this work on a day to day basis, it is advisable to discuss and agree on a Code of Conduct for how the representatives on the Board or Committee should behave in meetings, as well as for how the partners should act towards each other.

The Code of Conduct, and the partnership agreement, should contain a dispute resolution procedure. This does not need to immediately jump to an independent arbitrator – in fact, it is preferable if there is an escalating series of steps so that something quite small is not allowed to blow up into something big by the application of a procedure.

For example, the first step of any dispute resolution process may just be to have the two parties’ representatives meet privately to resolve their interests. The use of Interests Not Positions can be practised by them where they tell each other their interest rather than their position.

This could escalate to a meeting between them and a facilitator who can attempt to draw out of them their negotiable interests if the first, private attempt was unsuccessful. The facilitator can promote fair responses to reach an agreement.

Then, this could finally escalate to an independent arbitrator – where the decision is accepted as final.

Codes of Conduct can also provide a “steam valve” – for example where a discussion becomes too heated, the Chairperson could call a “time out” and postpone the rest of the meeting or apply a break in the meeting to allow people to cool off.

It is also important to state any preferred methods of general or dispute communication – what will be discussed in what kind of meetings? How will informal discussions be treated, agreeing that the discussions may need to be endorsed later, for example?

While allowing for formal and informal communications, it is also helpful to define a “hotline” – what is to be done to communicate matters if it is urgent or if it is likely to build into a dispute. This may be the mobile phone numbers of key people.


A good partnership is built on good behaviours and is codified by its structures.

The “Rulebook” that you will rely on to build an efficient relationship is the partnership agreement document.

This should be available to all Board/Committee members and be available at meetings so that if anything is in doubt, it can be referred to. It provides you with the solid ground on which the rest can be built.

Once you agree on a fair structure and composition for the Board and management of the activities, you need to build the supporting structural resources around that: -

  • Make sure all Board/Committee members undergo basic governance training
  • Prepare recorded position statements that detail the roles and responsibilities of each Board/Committee member
  • Agree (in reference to the partnership agreement document) their terms on the Board/Committee if they are to be limited
  • Record the different skills, experience, knowledge that each brings to the Board/Committee
  • Record any standing conflicts of interest
  • Prepare an Organisation Chart, showing where the Board/Committee, Management, and Staff sit in relation to each other and who each report to
  • On the Organisation Chart refer to each position’s roles, responsibilities and duties
  • Set a calendar of important dates such as Board/Committee meetings, dates to prepare reports, dates for financial reports and audit, dates for any AGM or similar meeting, milestones for operations
  • Prepare a Strategic Plan as an overview, helicopter view of your plans

Governance and Management Processes

Once you have created your structures to support behaviour, work on the operational processes of the partnership. These are the details on how you will carry out day-to-day operations, and how these processes refer back to structures and behaviours. Some of these, since they are operational, may have to be worked with the Manager.

These are some key policies and procedures that need to be identified: -

  • Governance processes
    • Who will call meetings and how?
    • Meeting procedures
    • Minutes and distribution
    • Bank authorities
    • Financial and non-financial delegations
  • Internal Control processes
    • Family relationships when signing documents or finance-related authorities
    • Separation of duties
    • Physical security of assets, keys and documents
  • Financial processes
    • Day-to-day financial record-keeping
    • Periodic reports
    • Annual reports
    • Audits
  • Management processes
    • Separation of power between Line Manager and Board/Committee members or partners
    • Manager’s delegations and authority
    • Performance management of the individual
    • Dispute process
  • Operational processes
    • Employment and employee policy and processes
    • Health and Safety
    • Training and development
    • Use of assets
    • “Hire and Fire”
    • Performance management of employees
  • Performance Management
    • What are the goals and any milestones
    • What is to be measured and how
    • What are the consequences or rewards

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