Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Assessing External Relations

by Bob Van Hook

An association colleague recently posted a question that he was looking for criteria to use when considering whether or not to collaborate with other organizations. Very good question because too many organizations waste a lot of time in organizational collaborations that don’t have much payoff.

First, it is important to distinguish between types of organizational relationships. Relationship come in a variety of intensities, from occasional to close. But the biggest distinction is between a “coalition” and a “collaboration.” It may seem like splitting terms, but I think of a coalition as a long-term relationship among organizations that may be working toward a common end, such as the Coalition to Relieve Hunger. In coalitions, organizational reps get together and share what they are doing and search for synergies among the partners. Unless there is a burning issue confronting the group, they often degenerate into mutual intelligence-gathering operations.

A collaboration on the other hand, is more sharply focused around an outcome or an issue – or should be. Organizations have other organizations with whom they relate, sharing a market or an issue, for example. They are strategic relationships. The problem is that over time external relationships, like other forms of strategy, can grow stale if they are not refreshed.

So my colleagues’ request is a good one. Organizations (boards of directors) should have a process for routinely assessing the value of each external relationship to which it is committing resources. Here are some of the relevant questions they should ask:

  • What is the nature of the relationship?
  • How does this relationship relate to our strategic plan?
  • What outcomes do we desire from the relationship?
  • What do we do together? (E.g., exchange directors, go to meetings, work on policy, etc.)
  • What does this relationship cost us in human resources and money? What are the opportunity costs?
  • What are the adverse effects, if any, of not maintaining this relationship?
  • Should we continue the plan and under what conditions?


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