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Can you crisis-proof your partnerships? Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic   

Datum:03 november 2021

In a post-pandemic world, having the right partnerships is going to be more crucial than ever. But how has the COVID-19 crisis affected those partnerships that were created pre-pandemic? One could think that it has increased conflicts between partners or even the rate of partnerships that dissolve prematurely. Managing partnerships is always challenging, as partners need to coordinate operations and interests while remaining independent. Hence, it may seem reasonable to think that the COVID-19 crisis has made partnership management—and survival—even more complex. 

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Surprisingly, however, a recent study led by AlliantiePartners highlights the resilience of partnerships. To the question of how the COVID-19 crisis had affected the relationship with the organization’s most important partner, only 17% of the survey respondents reported that the relationship worsened, whereas 83% indicated that the crisis had no significant effect on the relationship (41%) or that it actually strengthened the relationship (42%). 

AlliantiePartners’ study, although exploratory, provides insight into why some partnerships may endure major crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Seeking to highlight recommendations that can help firms to crisis-proof their partnerships, we therefore reflect on core results from this study:  

1.Extra effort into relationship building

Nurturing the relationship with partners is key to partnership success. However, it became difficult during the pandemic. The opportunities for high-quality interaction decreased in a digital setting. Some of the consulted organizations reacted by putting intentional effort into reinforcing the relationship with partners. Such collaborative efforts help build relationally-embedded partnerships. Amongst other, they can promote flexibility, which is at the core of relational approaches to partnership governance. Flexibility seems critical in crisis contexts, as it facilitates coordination under uncertainty. 

2. We are in the same boat

In many partnerships, recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic as a common threat seems to have enhanced solidarity between the partners. Solidarity is another key pillar in relational models of partnership governance. It is too highly relevant in crisis contexts, as it encourages cooperative problem solving. P artners become more lenient towards each other, which allows them to deal with problems and delays due to the crisis in a collaborative way.  

3. Strategic importance of partnerships

The crisis has led many organizations to revisit the role of their partnerships for their own strategy and goals. Often, this has reaffirmed the importance of  partnerships — some may have become even more relevant as a result of the crisis. Partnerships tend to receive a lot of attention at the setup and rollout phases; this may fade out over time, as other business pressures keep managers busy. Being aware of the importance of partnerships allows redirecting managers’ attention towards them. In turn, this facilitates continuous monitoring of partnernships and prompt troubleshooting.

In sum, investing in relationship management may pay off in times of crisis, as it helps build flexibility and solidarity between partners. In addition, it seems important to keep a clear picture on how the partnership relates to the organization’s strategy. This helps ensure that the most relevant partnerships receive the necessary support — also in difficult times. Therefore, paying attention to the relational and strategic sides of partnerships, while not a panacea, may help build partnership resilience against the next global crisis. 

About the study 

AlliantiePartners—a Dutch consulting firm specialized in alliance management—sent a survey to more than 450 business contacts. 83 responses were received between February and April, 2021.To complement the survey, AlliantiePartners conducted interviews with 10 of the respondent organizations. AlliantiePartners led the study; the authors of this article helped with the survey’s design. For further information, please contact AlliantiePartners: info 


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