Partnering is a process designed to create a positive and cooperative relationship during contract performance or at any other time when working with others. Partnering facilitates the parties’ ability to define common goals, improve communication, and create a collaborative attitude among a group of individuals who must work together throughout contract performance. Partnering as a tool for dispute prevention is useful in any contractual relationship.
The central objectives of partnering are to encourage parties to change from traditional adversarial relationships to a more cooperative, team-based approach, and to prevent issues from evolving into disputes through early detection and appropriate corrective or other action. The partnering concept is significant because it offers the most efficient form of dispute resolution: conflict prevention through joint problem-solving to resolve issues as they arise. Indeed, the benefits of partnering go beyond preventing disputes and include improved communication, increased quality and efficiency, on-time performance, improved long-term relationships, and a fair profit and prompt payment for the contractor.
What is Partnering?
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which pioneered the use of partnering in its construction and operations contracts almost three decades ago, defines partnering as “a voluntary organized process by which multiple stakeholders having shared interests perform as a team to achieve mutually beneficial goals. It is based on establishing these goals early in the project lifecycle, building trusting relationships, and engaging in collaborative problem solving.”
A simple review of these and other definitions and descriptions of partnering reveal common essential characteristics: shared interests, mutual goals, commitment, teamwork, trust, problem solving, and a synergistic relationship. All of these characteristics describe government contracting.
The Department of the Navy also uses partnering in its contracts. The Partnering System for Naval Facilities Engineering Command describes partnership as “a collaborative effort and a long-term commitment between two or more organizations for the purpose of achieving specific business objectives by maximizing the effectiveness of each participant’s resources in delivering the Client’s requirements. This requires changing traditional ‘individualized’ relationships to a ‘shared culture’ relationship without regard to organizational boundaries. The partnering relationship is based on trust, dedication to common goals, an understanding of each other’s individual expectations and values, and a full commitment to success. Benefits include improved communications, efficiency and cost effectiveness, increased opportunity for innovation, and the continuous improvement of product quality and services.”
Another long-time user of partnering in contracts is the Army Materiel Command (AMC), who in the 1990’s took the ACE philosophy and expanded it to acquisitions of all types. Though no longer a formal program, partnering is still used by AMC in individual acquisition efforts on a case-by-case basis.
How Does Partnering Work?
The partnering concept creates a climate for success by building a cooperative team dedicated to a win-win atmosphere. It depends on the personal commitment of all individuals on the team. This commitment is built through personal relationships that must be formed early and reinforced throughout the project.
Partnering ideally begins after two or more stakeholder organizations reach an agreement or sign a contract to work together on a project. Experienced partnering stakeholders have concluded that the best time to initiate the partnering process is immediately after the contract award is made. The clear benefit to the stakeholders in an early start to partnering is that the process facilitates a means for the stakeholders to identify a clear set of expectations that foster good communications, teamwork and collaborative problem solving from the start of the relationship to the completion of the project.
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and ACE have partnered significantly and have had a long standing partnership. AGC and ACE most recently signed a formal partnering agreement in 2010. Federal agencies with large capital construction programs provide programmatic briefings and participate in collaborative workshops to solve problems of mutual concern. This engagement represents the effort by both AGC and ACE to partner on a national scale, thereby encouraging a strong commitment to safety, construction excellence, and the efficient use of tax payer dollars. ACE and AGC continue to work in a partnering manner to communicate and resolve construction contract administration and performance issues.
Partnering at the Army Corps of Engineers