Norms and Communication

Taking time to establish ground rules, expectations, and communication guidelines, allows partners to establish a solid foundation to build on.

The expected norms for every partnership should be documented within the partnership guidelines and shared regularly to ensure that the partnership is able to implement the guidelines effectively. These norms should be regularly re-evaluated and negotiated.

Partners should consider these issues in the following areas:

  • Communication: Using a communication structure facilitates open dialogue, reduces ineffective conflict, and provides a framework for healthy problem resolution.
  • Knowledge Management: Collective knowledge is a vital resource for any partnership. It is important to establishing norms for collecting, organizing, and sharing knowledge including data points for the measurement of organizational impact and effectiveness, understandings of members, as well as, ideas and innovation recommended by members of the organization.
  • Resource Management: Resources are what allows the partnership to exist and operate. Misuse of resources can impact organizational effectiveness. Establishing a framework for monitoring, utilizing, and sharing resources helps ensure the accountability of the organization.
  • Decision-Making: Decision making is a key aspect of all organizations. An effective chain of command should be established that provides a framework for decisions within the organization. There should be a hierarchy that incorporates several levels of the organization to allow the organization to operate both effectively and efficiently. Accountability and interdependence should be considered in this process.
  • Conflict Resolution: Establishing an agreed-upon framework for conflict resolution will help partners continue to communicate effectively and resolve disagreements. There are several models of communication that can be utilized to facilitate difficult conversations with open and honest communication that produces successful results. Organizations should choose a model that works for them, train facilitators to implement the techniques, and establish guidelines for using these procedures.
  • Meetings: Serve as the baseline communication strategy for the organization. Meetings allow members to engage in a relationship with one another, facilitate open dialogue, and provide a safe environment to voice concerns. Regular attendance and participation at meetings should be encouraged and guidelines should be outlined that respect participants’ time yet allows for open communication throughout the meeting.

Resources for establishing norms and communication within your organization:

Books to Read:

  • Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, Susan Scott
  • Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, Douglas Stone, et al.
  • Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, Kerry Patterson, et al.
  • Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Talking about Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior, Kerry Patterson, et al.
  • Power up Brilliance: Lead from the Middle, Merom Klein PhD and Louis Yochee Klein PsyD.
  • The Courage to Act: 5 Factors of Courage to Transform Business, Merom Klein and Rod Napier.

Designing and Formalizing Partnerships

Partnerships are relationship-based and therefore they often start out as informal agreements between parties. However, as the relationship grows it will likely become necessary to formalize the partnership. Some partnerships will begin with a formal agreement. This is particularly true in partnerships established through collaboration with for-profit corporations.

In the design and formalization phase organizations go through a process to establish a formal code-of-conduct, expectations, deliverables, and a shared agenda moving forward. These documents become the backbone of the organization and help guide the partnership forward. In addition, they provide a structure for conflict resolution which aides in the sustainability of the partnership. It’s important to recognize that these documents are formal and binding in nature but they are also living documents that can be re-evaluated and amended to continue to support the organization for many years to come.

Organizations may have different types of formalization processes depending on the partnership they are working to establish. For example, UNICEF has two primary processes: one for small scale funding agreements with partners, and another for program partners. The small scale funding agreement allows community-based organizations to petition UNICEF for funding that will allow them to grow their program and establish their organization within the community. While the program agreement partnership is established with organizations wishing to establish a long-term relationship with UNICEF to partner with them in delivering specific community-based programming under the UNICEF guidelines. (2017)

Formalized funding partnerships should include the following components:

  • Description of the purpose of the partnership
  • The Expected result of the program.
  • Any specific agreement conditions (this includes expectations or goals from both parties)
  • A budget that includes the source of each line item by program partners.
  • Guidelines for monitoring and reporting on the results of the partnership.

Formalized program partnerships should include the following components:

  • Overview of the program including an outline of both parties agreement to participate and to what extent.
  • Communication plan among the partners including a plan for agreed-upon meetings.
  • A detailed description of the program being offered.
  • Workplan and budget including clear identification of partner roles in the program.
  • Review plan for the partnership during which the partnership will be re-evaluated and any design changes agreed upon.
  • Guidelines for monitoring and reporting on the results of the partnership.
  • Any other important aspects of the partnership.

Working Groups and Steering Committees

Working groups are subgroups within the organization that help lead and direct the activities of the larger organization. Each workgroup has a specific focus within the larger organization. These laser focused groups help the organization achieve its overarching mission through attention to the details that comprise the vision for the organization.

The members of the workgroups are often respected members of the community with a focus on the details needed for that specific workgroup. The workgroup reports to the steering committee and is integral to guiding the direction of the organization. They help choose and implement strategies tailored to the workgroup’s roles and responsibilities. They engage community members and track progress towards goals. Workgroups, like departments of an organization, operate semi-independently while maintaining communication with the steering committee and bringing important matters in front of the decision-makers.

Workgroup formation is a key aspect of developing successful workgroups within the organization. During the formation process members of the steering committee work in collaboration with the workgroup to develop a working document that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the workgroup. These include:

  • Detailed outline of the responsibilities of the members of the workgroup.
  • A schedule and format for meetings within the workgroup including actions required before the meeting, during the meeting, and after the meeting.
  • A communication guide for workgroup members and a plan for conflict resolution within the committee.
  • A guideline for reporting to the steering committee and tracking assignments within the workgroup.
  • Guide for developing action plans within the workgroup for initiatives designed to support the common agenda, including strategies that will be used.
  • Guide for measuring the effectiveness of the program including benchmark data points that will be evaluated to determine the success of the initiatives.

Steering Committees serve as the command center for the organization. They are comprised of key members of the community that represent both the population of the community and have expertise in aspects of the social change objective being pursued. The steering committee works with workgroup members, politicians, and other partners to guide the strategic direction of the organization, collect relevant data, and evaluate the progress of the organization or group of organizations.

When selecting members of the steering committee its a good idea to evaluate a variety of sources including government, non-profits, business, philanthropist, existing collaborations, and even members of the target population. You will want stakeholders within the community that represents a variety of actors within the community. Members will need to be able to work collaboratively and be able to find a common ground from which the organization can launch.

The steering committee members are responsible for developing the common agenda for change, articulating the problem statement, identifying goals, establishing the guiding principles of the organization. This strategic direction is informed through the use of data that informs action. This committee is also responsible for fostering and supporting the relationship between the steering committee and the workgroups.

As part of the steering committee’s formation, the group will develop a governance agreement that outlines the goals, strategic guidance, vision, and oversight for the organization. This includes:

  • Developing and refining the Common Agenda for Change.
  • Using data to inform strategy
  • How progress will be tracked and what indicators will be used.
  • How connections will be made, communication managed, and conflicts remediated.
  • What role each member will play within the Steering committee and how their organization will align to the common agenda.

Resources for forming workgroups and steering committees:

Real-World Partnerships

Partnerships use a variety of means to communicate with each other. While there are a variety of options available both partnerships we talked to agreed that they primarily rely on the basic communication methods that are prevalent today. Both organizations maintain a website and social media presence, they use email as a primary means of communicating with partners that they supplement with phone calls, text messages, and in-person visits to foster the relationship.

Hope & A Future identified some of the biggest challenges they have experienced with partners is over-commitment from sponsors and lack of engagement in the overall vision. They have overcome and reduced these issues by improving their communication with their partners. They stated that communication is key to ensuring that rough spots are smoothed out and it prevents a lot of issues from becoming blown out of proportion. They shared an example where a partner committed to bringing a certain number of presents to an event but a few weeks out, they were short on the agreed-upon number. Because they communicated the issue, they were able to reach out to other partners who were able to fill the gap. In addition, Hope & A Future highlighted the need for grace and trust in difficult situations. I appreciated the continued focus on the relationship, as they identified the fact that every relationship has challenges and trusting in the process allows time for the relationship to mature.

The House of Refuge highlighted the importance of building relationships by getting face-to-face with partners. While they didn’t identify any specific challenges they have faced, they discussed the importance of having partners come to the site to see what they do, meet the families, and understand the mission and vision of the organization. They expressed that communicating the goals of the organization effectively is a key aspect of the their partnerships and helps them to work toward the goal of getting families into independent living situations.


Section 1. Developing a Plan for Communication. (2019). Retrieved November 5, 2019, from (Links to an external site)

Steering Committee Toolkit (2004). Resources. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from (Links to an external site)

UNICEF. (2017).Designing and Formalizing. Identifying CSO Partners. Civil Society Partnerships. Retrieved From: (Links to an external site.)

Workgroup Toolkit (2004). Resources. Retrieved November 5, 2019, from (Links to an external site)