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Tackling Power Imbalances in Partnership

16th October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Power imbalance - stijn-swinnen

Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

Power dynamics can destabilise a partnership, even with the best of intentions.  Diagnosis is the first step to rebalancing power for effective partnerships. Mastering mindsets for partnerships will help to tackle power imbalances in partnerships but more explicit efforts are necessary to anticipate and manage the impact of power in partnerships. 

Diagnosing power imbalances 

  1. Be honest about differences in financial resources and recognise all contributions to a partnership. This will enable partners to take account of all values in negotiations and decision making and mitigate for potential asymmetries in power.  
  2. Understand the difference between Project and Partnership Success. A Project can achieve desirable outcomes for participants yet fail to achieve mutual benefits to partners. Approach partnerships knowing the desired project and partnership outcomes, to ensure that one does not come at the expense of the other.  
  3. Call out unachievable goals. Setting unrealistic expectations can cause projects to falter, and can cause partners to default to entrenched power positions.  Realistic goals are needed to balance power relationships effectively. 

Balancing power for productive partnerships  

  1. Communicate effectively from the onsetBe explicit about the objectives, accountabilities, roles and responsibilities to capture power and potential from the outset.  Then actively invest in deriving the individual partner and mutual benefits from the partnership. 
  2. Emphasise the value of non-monetary resourcesJust as corporate partners might have innovation and communications expertise, as well as access to sizeable resources, NGO’s can highlight the significance of their networks, expertise, and reputation for the project’s success. 
  3. Promote transparency: bring all relevant stakeholders in the partnership together in one forum and within an agreed process. Publicise and record activities so that non-participating stakeholders can understand the responsibilities of each party.  
  4. Establish shared and transparent decision-making processes. This will prove vital in ensuring equal influence as the project progresses.  
  5. Create an environment of shared learning. By creating feedback loops through evaluations or reports, partners can discuss whether the project has addressed each party’s individual interests. This process can help determine whether partners are benefiting proportionally and, if not, how partners can improve their performance.  
  6. Build shared rewards. Learn from industry models. We know that businesses, where employees and shareholders receive a shared reward, are more likely to thrive.  
  7. Incentivise power sharing.  Examples from workplace bargaining suggest that an influential partner will relinquish control of a process when incentives exist. This could include better outcomes from the partnership or greater access to partner assets. 
  8. Provide formal procedures to facilitate equal levels of influence. Offer methods of support for partners with less financial influence to encourage their equal participation.  
  9. Formal, institutional arrangements are vital for power balances. Co-determination in corporate governance models—in which employees have the formal opportunity to participate in their firm’s decision making—leads to great balances of influence. Encourage participation by local actors. When possible, attempt to support locally controlled finance mechanisms to balance financial influences. 
  10. Develop a RACI (responsibility, accountability, consulted, informed) framework for the partnership to ensure partners are actively engaged.  The more of a personal stake people feel they have in a partnership, the more responsible they will feel for ensuring its success.iii 

Power imbalances are inherent in partnerships between organisations with different levels of monetary resources, expertise, dedicated people and influence within the sector. However, if imbalances go unchecked they can undermine trust and ultimately partnership success. Diagnosing the power imbalance and ensuring the value that each partner brings is recognised is a start. Beyond this, formal procedures can ensure decision-making processes are fully consultative and transparent so the influence of each partner is clear and shared learning and rewards can ensure partners benefit proportionally. Power can even be redistributed by incentivising power sharing and offering methods of supporting less financially influential partners. In these ways, equal participation and equal influence can be achieved. 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow and Rachael Clay 

iii Talking the Walk: A Communication Manual for Partnership Practitioners pg 19

Investments for partnership mindsets 

9th October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

 Investments for partnership mindsets

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Partnership is essential to achieving the SDGs yet an intention – reality gap exists. Organisations, whether NGO, Company or institution, have this as a stated priority.  Professional partnership teams are working hard to hold together relationships, but it takes a whole organisation to deliver transformative partnerships.  There’s a troublesome investment deficit in partnerships. Partnership management is often approached intuitively and can succeed or fail based on the abilities of individuals involved with little training or supportPartnerships are getting by, but we need clear consistent leadership on partnership, investment in skills and mindsets shifts and the right kind of culture and enabling environment for partnership working across all actors. 


Leadership is needed to set ambitions for large scale transformational partnerships, not just for funding, but for change, as well as expecting every part of an organisation to develop its capacity to deliver in partnership.  It is a challenge to build the capacities, systems and approaches to deliver in partnership but one that leadership need to invest in.  


We expect people to partner productively whether from business, NGO or institutionglobal or local, small or large organisation. However, the paradigms people operate can cloud their perspectives and behaviours.  Missed communication is commonplace.  Mismatched expectations are damaging.  Collaboration is constrained.  We need an investment in partnership skills and to nurture new mindsets in our partnership leaders and wider teams People need support to understand each other, develop shared value and deal with difference.  Only then can we engender trust and build resilient relationships and successful collaborations. 


Culture and style of an organisation are critical determinants of the enabling environment for partnership.  Leaders need to signal the changes and model behaviours that support the new mindset.  Using news tools and systems, resources and rewards can encourage and stimulate people’s interest in doing things differentlyiiThis takes strong and consistent leadership, focusing on transformational change, while being open on the means to achieve it, sharing success, mistakes and learning along the way.   

It is time that organisations recognise the investment deficit in partnerships. Let’s begin to invest in the leadership, skills, mindsets and culture to deliver transformative partnerships.  

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Rachael Clay

[ii] Gardner, H. (2004). Changing minds: The art and science of changing our own and other people’s minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Remaking Mindsets for Partnership and Innovation

3rd October 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by s w on Unsplash

Photo by s w on Unsplash

Mindsets do not have to be fixed.  We can develop our mastery of mindsets for partnership, starting with self-awareness, awareness of others and self-regulation.  We first need to understand how we interpret the world and react to it, according to our own mental models.  Understanding the paradigms and mental models which guide the way we see ourselves, others and our work will help to explore how we can develop our mindsets (see diagram 1).   

Any level of organisation: a society, a profession, a company, or a partnership will have paradigms and mental models which influence the way we see things and do our work.  Bring a commercial organisation, and NGO and/or another institution together and the different paradigms can lead to fundamental misunderstandings and miscommunication.  Shifting mindsets requires us to challenge and reimagine the paradigm3 in our organisation or partnership to break and remake our mental models and inform new behaviours. 

Reexamine mindsets 

  • Take a fresh look at the problem/s you’re looking to solve. 
  • How is it new/different from the problem/s you faced in the past? How has the context changed? 
  • ‘Out’ your current mindsets (what are your current assumptions?). 
  • Do your current mindsets enable or disable your ability to solve the problem? 

Identify new assumptions  

  • Challenge old assumptions. 
  • Resist the temptation to adapt and refine, purposefully create new assumptions relating to the new context and problems you face. 
  • How does this change the relevance of your approach?

Establish a new framework of priorities and outcomes 

  • Redefine the issues you need to tackle. 
  • Drive out how your new priorities relate to your new assumptions ‘Because of this, we need to do this …’ 
  • Starting from your new assumptions, define the outcomes you want to see (these may be the same as previous outcomes, but the route to achieving them will be dramatically different). 

Develop behaviours to support a new set of assumptions and priorities 

  • Define behaviours which will enable you to successfully achieve your priorities. 
  • Lead with these behaviours to exemplify new ways of doing things. 

Consider new methods and systems 

  • Consider new methods and tools; how can you socialise and systematise a new approach in your organisation or partnership? 

Be prepared for dissonance and discomfort along the way. This is hard to do. Challenging your paradigm and reimagining your organisational or partnership mindsets, will ultimately lead to new ones, capable of spawning new approaches and creative ways of tackling the challenges ahead.  

Diagram 1:  How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms. 

How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms.

How behaviours are a function of mindsets, mental models and paradigms.

  • Capra, F. (1996). The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor Books. 
  • Senge, P. M. (1990). The fth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow 

[3] Daryl Conner; Conner partners, http://www.connerpartners.com/frameworks-and-processes/the-movement-begins.



Personal Mastery of Mindsets for Partnership

27th September 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Mastering the 6 personal mindsets will help individuals and their organisations build healthy, enduring partnerships [insert link to blog 1 – emily to do once live]. 

The 6 mindsets for partnerships are complementary and require balance.  For example, an outcome mindset can feel forceful if not balanced with a shared value mindset.  An effectiveness mindset can be superficial when not balanced with a reflective mindset.  A solution mindset can be based on a skewed problem definition if not balanced with an openness mindset.  Think of the mindsets as a prismadapting to change the shape of partnerships.  

This week, we look at tools to develop four of the mindsets for partnerships and balance outcome and effectiveness mindsets with openness and shared values to help deliver healthy, long-term partnerships.   


1. Leaders take responsibility to build the partnership, not just the programme of activities, constantly modelling and managing behaviours. 

2. Take accountability for your role in the partnership and clearly specify the responsibilities of other individuals with sufficient detail to ensure each individual can follow through. 


  • Partnership visualisation:  Developing a vision for the partnership as well as the outcomes. 
  • Commitment setting:  Defining personal, partnership and programme commitments. 


1. Be open and honest about your intentions and goals: This will build trust and guide your partners’ future responses. Be clear and frank.  Leaving people to read between the lines can lead to misconceptions. Your behaviour and consistency is paramount. 

2. Build empathy and seek understanding:  Welcome feedback and differences in values and viewpointsBuild self-awareness of defensive behaviour and plans to mitigate it. ‘Out’ internal barriers and problems as soon as they emerge to protect against ‘rigid’ thinking. 

Openness tools: 

  • Internal communication plan 
  • Conflict management training 


1. Establish shared values: Develop shared ‘superordinate’ goals, which can only be achieved by working together.  You can reduce conflict and challenge by defining goals which aren’t ‘owned’ by individual organisations, but created together.  

2. Establish a shared set of rules or norms that function within the partnership to promote harmonious working and prevent rigidity and oppositional organisational styles. 

Shared value tools: 

  • Shared rules/norms for partnership 
  • Feedback loops:  formalised and regular mechanisms for feedback 

A partnership which is grounded in honesty and transparency may be uncomfortable at times but is more able to function smoothly and withstand disagreement.  Developing personal mastery of such mindsets takes practice, but with an openness to discuss outcomes, values and effectiveness comes truly effective relationship building.  Start talking today. 

Next week, we will explore the solutions mindsets and its relationship with openness and reflection mindsets for partnership innovation. 

Follow the series to get an ‘overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation’ and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.  Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Jane Thurlow and Rachael Clay

Personal Mastery of mindsets for Partnership Innovation

18th September 2019 Posted by: Ethicore

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Partnership and innovation require similar mindsets, to explore possibility beyond the limits of our own organisation or existing solutions.  Tackling problems to achieve such ambition for transformative change is a stretch.  It takes diverse skills and perspectives working together in multi-functional teams.  solutions mindset is key, particularly when balanced with a reflective and openness mindset. 

Developing a reflective mindset is critical for excellence in partnership and innovation. Studies have shown that perceiving a supportive feedback environment is linked to greater feedback seeking and higher performance2.  Taking time to reflect with colleagues and partners can help explore the dynamics of a partnership. It is important to embrace this feedback and learn from it. Feedback and discussion can expose issues and opportunities; help challenge nascent assumptions and habitual approachesand make knowledge and attitudes more explicit, making it possible to work on solutions.   

Practising an openness mindset with humility and embracing differences in viewpoints, can lead to greater opportunity for innovative ideas, which is essential for transformative partnerships. Indeed, researchers have found that openness to experience is linked to Creativity i . People who welcome feedback and are interested in other points of view, seeing these as a way to find solutions, can build mutual success in relationships. Incorporating the solutions of others and empathising with their perspective helps to make individuals feel valued, as well as enhance partnership and innovation solutions. 

A solutions mindset is critical for transformative partnerships and innovation.  It challenges us to engage with the experience of participants in programmes or ‘users’deeply understand problems we are solving and outcomes we are expecting as well as seeking out solutions that are already emerging.  When developed alongside a reflective and openness mindset, the following approaches will enable both partnership and innovation: 

  • NLP researchers propose that the flexibility to move between the levels at which a problem or concept is considered, from the abstract to the detailed or vice versa, can help gain agreement in negotiations and plan projects.  
  • Embracing heterogeneity to stop ‘group think’ and encouraging participation by local actors. 
  • Being flexible and adaptive, encouraging openness and adaptation to changing contexts and challenges. 
  • Taking considered risks: being ready to fail fast and learn. 

 As partners we need to focus on building solutions and openness mindsets, enabling us to create a fundamental shift in the way we view problems and our ability to innovate.  

Follow the series to get an overview of the mindsets for partnership and innovation and delve deep into each mindset for more insights and tools.

Sign up at https://www.ethicore.com/get-in-touch/sign-up/ to receive the series by email. 

By Rachael Clay and Jane Thurlow

[i] Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action (p. 1983). New York: Basic Books.

[2] Whitaker, B. G., Dahling, J. J., & Levy, P. (2007). The development of a feedback environment and role clarity model of job performance. Journal of Management, 33(4), 570-591.