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Partnering the Deliberate Pursuit of a Culture that Supports Collaboration

Partnering: The Deliberate Creation of Culture that Supports Collaboration Rick Russell, Partner Agree Inc. (Dundas, ON) Partnering Successes In February, 2011, Agrees Dundas, Ontario office received a call from one of our long-time international manufacturing and building clients. They had purchased a ship building and re-fitting outfit in Atlantic Canada. The enterprise was struggling to become and remain viable. Management was expressing frustration in achieving the flexibility it needed in order to create efficiencies in its manufacturing processes. The working relationship with the union was described as strained and there was a high degree of skepticism and mistrust between the company and its union. The union was disappointed that the Company was not aggressively pursuing shipbuilding opportunities that were on the horizon. Gary Furlong and I flew out east and convened a two day session with the union executive and several other committee chairs and opinion leaders, together with Labour Relations, V-Ps and Managers of Operations, about twenty-eight people in total. We agreed in advance that war stories and historical differences would be used as means of understanding what was driving the issues between the parties and that people would be encouraged to share their hopes and vision for the future of the facility, the Company and the membership, rather than using the session to settle scores. The Senior V-P for Canadian Operations shared the business case that he had presented in order to keep the doors open during the previous fiscal budgetary allotments. He made it clear that he had an important personal stake in the success of the works in Atlantic Canada. He outlined the risk assessment exercise that had caused the Company to demur from bidding on several federal ship-building opportunities and talked about the kind of flexibility management required in order to feel it could bid competitively on several upcoming projects. Discussions were difficult. Voices were raised many times. People threatened to leave. The parties considered throwing in the towel, but were challenged by the facilitators to put their concerns on the table, directly, but in a constructive way along with ideas that they feel might address these barriers to a successful working relationship with the other. The Past-President of the union expressed frustration that the Company was trying to do things through the back door. He pointed out several articles in the collective agreement that had been introduced years ago to allow the Company to achieve some of the efficiencies it was now suggesting could not be 1

Partnering the Deliberate Pursuit of a Culture that Supports Collaboration

accomplished without new language. He challenged management to use the notice provisions in the current agreement to invite the union to the table to discuss several of these innovations. Both groups identified delegates to task teams for the purpose of addressing these issues, and together developed terms of reference to focus discussions on productive areas for exploration. As facilitators, Gary Furlong and I took the group through tools and teach pieces that would assist them in understanding the drivers of conflict that had been fueling a counter-productive narrative among them. We challenged them to lift the pen off the page and together to begin to write a different kind of narrative with the prospect for a different kind of ending. Each of the task teams were given timelines and milestones to meet and legacy structures were put into place to address Issue Resolution and to monitor the health of the ongoing relationships (an Evaluation and Partnering Champion team). After two long days of very hard work, union and management had their first joint working plan and procedural problem solving framework in the history of the Companys current ownership. Win / Win sounds so good and falls off the tongue so easily. Who cant jump on that bandwagon? Collaborative working arrangements are all the rage, and everyone from private enterprise, government, unions and professional associations to NGOs participate in and laud their value to society. Win / win relationships do not just happen. Collaboration does not occur easily or even naturally. People and businesses are naturally competitive and self-protecting. Organizations needing to leverage off of one another in order to succeed, require a process to follow to both protect them and to unleash the creativity and synergies that cause them to go into these relationships in the first place. Collaboration is not a happy accident. It is the pursuit of a deliberate and disciplined set of principles and stated and met expectations that allow organizations to learn how to take measured and proportional risks together. When Rick Weiler and I founded Agree, some twenty years ago now, Mediation was the shiny, new thing -- the engine which would drive our business plan. Mediation has been good to us. We have nurtured and grown our practices into new areas and enjoy the confidence of a broad range of sophisticated clients across Canada. That same year, 1993, was the beginning of another, lesser known but profoundly important activity in Canada Partnering. Along with Susanne Palmer, of Toronto, and the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, Agree was the first proponent of the use of the Partnering model in Canada, and we are still busy designing and facilitating this process, now for a remarkably broad range of clientele with many varied and novel applications.

Partnering the Deliberate Pursuit of a Culture that Supports Collaboration

Our early work was in Partnerings foundational industry, commercial construction. It started there as a strategy of the US Army Corps of Engineers to reduce the numbers of claims and the delay, costliness and uncertainty occasioned by construction litigation. In Canada, first the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario, then the Department of National Defense and more recently Infrastructure Ontario became important proponents of Partnering. Canadas two largest constructors, PCL and EllisDon both employ Partnering routinely on their largest and riskiest projects. Examples of Partnerings Applications & Successes We have designed and facilitated processes to: help the deepest hard-rock mine in Canada at the time (the Kidd Mine near Timmins) to expand, using funds from its operation to fund the expansion of the mine; build capacity for the construction of one of Canadas first wireless cellphone networks; build capacity in a joint venture mine building and extracting venture to construct new mines to exploit unused mineral rights; improve relations between a ship building firm and its union; improve relations between several federal public sector unions and their departments; develop a sense of shared purpose between two inter-dependent Ministries of a provincial government; Build relations among several provincial government Ministries and Agencies; Test the viability of maintaining a deep water arctic port open year round for the development of an iron ore mine on Baffin Island; Build capacity to support a province-wide realignment of Community Care Access Centers; Convene discussions among various levels of government for the use of highprofile public land; Merging of several geographically adjacent public service agencies; Build capacity among three private sector joint ventures developing public private partnership opportunities. 3

Partnering the Deliberate Pursuit of a Culture that Supports Collaboration

All of these initiatives have drawn from and contributed to our understanding and refinement of Partnering principles.

What the Partnering Process Looks Like Most of these initiatives stem from a one or two day workshop process where parties: share information about their expectations of one another; identify and negotiate misalignments in those expectations; identify both challenges and opportunities inherent in the project or undertaking; prioritize those challenges and opportunities and then brainstorm ideas to address them; identify task teams, milestones and timelines to move forward on these rocks in the road; create legacy structures to support the ongoing development and monitoring of their relationship; develop an stepped negotiation tool called an Issue Resolution Ladder which is a protocol to empower people closest to the problem to resolve issues and to escalate them quickly if their efforts fail; learn and apply interest-based problem solving tools like the ICA Model to assist parties in understanding the basis for their differences and to support them in overcoming them.

Twenty years ago Partnering was a small, but significant aspect of Agrees business and business plan. As the breadth of its application became apparent, not only to us, but our corporate customers, demand for Partnering design and meeting facilitation has multiplied. Our core competencies in assisting parties to understand those things that drive conflict between them competing interests, to name them unashamedly and then to talk openly about how to bring these disparate forces into alignment with their shared objectives and business and other interests, creates authentic relationships and enduring value for clients.

Partnering the Deliberate Pursuit of a Culture that Supports Collaboration

Conflict Should Build Relationships Not End Them One of my current business partners, Gary Furlong of Toronto has an aphorism framed and hanging over his desk. It reads: Conflict Should Build Relationships, Not End Them. That saying reflects the theme and experience of Agrees Partnering programme. Rather than playing nice, acting as if we all want the same things for the same reasons, Gary, Heather Swartz or I will press clients, (even CEOs) to name what is real and what is going on for them behind the all the smiles and handshakes. We reveal the actual seams, stresses and strains in the working relationships to all of the players, challenging them to discuss what is meaningful and what will make their business relationships and working models stronger. As parties learn that it is safe for them to talk about what matters most, that their working partners are not Cinderellas in glass slippers that will shatter at the first sign of pressure, they learn to respect one another, what they need out of the relationship, and to build their capacity to differ respectfully. This culture that can tolerate difference significantly contributes to an environment that encourages the proactive management of risk, proportional and strategic risk taking, and most importantly authentic, adult business relationships. Not bad for something that only warranted an asterisk on a 1993 business plan!