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Frank Muller P,E., Esq.

Richard A. Coughlin P.E., MBA

In 1993 we wrote that " partnering was a promising management practice.". Now, five years later, it is an established practice with many success stories reflecting millions of dollars in claims reductions to the Purchasers of goods and services while at the same time increasing Contractor and Supplier profits . Regrettably, it is also a process that is yet to be fully understood by many companies and as a consequence is often misapplied.

In addition, some, believing it to be "a magic wand" and "cure all" are bitterly disappointed with the results of partnering because they operate under the mistaken impression that incorporating a requirement for a partnering workshop in the contract documents will automatically result in improved communications and cooperation over the life of the undertaking without much effort on the part of the project team members. This is not the way that partnering works.

In order for partnering to be successful, all project participants, the purchaser, contractor and suppliers and consultants have to commit to the process. Trust, respect and cooperation cannot be mandated.

What is Partnering?

The Construction Industry Institute (CII) has defined partnering as "a concept that focuses on making the goals of the owner, contractor, designer and supplier better understood and easier to manage. Partnering . . . outlines mutually attainable goals, satisfies long-term needs and assigns risk among all the parties involved."

Partnering is designed to obtain creative cooperation and commitment by the team members (stakeholders) to avoid adversarial confrontation during the life of the project

The process is structured to provide all the participants with a "win-win" approach to problem-resolution.

Usually the process starts at the very beginning of a project after the team participants are selected. This, however, does not negate bringing the team participants together after the project has started because partnering can have a positive impact at any point in the progress of the project (or lack of same).

There are numerous approaches to the conduct of workshops as needs of clientele vary as do their budgets. We at The Metro Group have found that the one essential to successful partnering is commitment at the highest level of the project team management.

We at The Metro Group have found that a successful partnering model consists of the following:

Initial Interviews

Preceding the workshop we interview, separately, the key team members at the job site to obtain background information. Although the interviews are in held in confidence, the data gathered is utilized in the workshop that follows, while protecting the anonymity of the source

The Workshop

Although the principles of partnering apply to all projects, there is no established criteria for the conduct of a workshop. In the initial years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided for a 40-hour retreat for the project participants. Today, one or two-day workshops, with follow-up maintenance meetings are the norm.

A one-day (or two) workshop brings together representatives of all the stakeholders including key subcontractors who are essential participants.

The workshop is broken down into two phases:

Team building:

Team building focuses on the process. The participants actively engage in exercises and hypothetical problem-solving to better understand the value of cooperative behavior and the and the benefits of "win-win" relationships.

The team building concept emphasizes the development of positive relationships built on trust, honesty and integrity. It also facilitates opens communication; the ultimate result of which is improved quality, productivity and dispute avoidance and/or non-adversarial resolution.

The Project:

The second phase is devoted to the project and establishing goals, issues and responsibilities and developing the partnering charter. Each team member has input into the development of the partnering charter which memorializes agreement among the parties signing the charter.

The fact that the parties sign a charter does not however establish a new contract or change any of the existing contract commitments. The charter is essentially a listing of goals to be achieved within the parameters of the contract commitments.

Maintenance and Follow-up

In some instances, the workshop is very positive , but parties fail to maintain the charter commitments. As a consequence adversity and conflict may arise and if allowed to grow, the parties may claim that the partnering process is failing. It is imperative therefore, that the parties with (or without) the facilitator and separate and distinct from regular job meetings revisit the partnering charter. This can be accomplished by periodically scheduling meetings at which the parties review and update the partnering process and charter and evaluate each other's performance as the job progresses. The follow-up is as important as the initial workshop.


If top management is committed and the parties agree to the process, partnering will be successful. Success is measured by achieving defined goals and meeting expectations to the satisfaction of all If the project is successful, then each of the parties (stakeholders) will achieve benefit.

It is only the misapplication or lack of maintenance of the process that leads to failure.

If readers of this column are interested in more detail, you can contact the Authors. In addition, an excellent reference document published on the topic is issued by the Associated General Contractors of America in September, 1991, entitled, "Partnering: The Concept for Success."

The Metro Group can be reached through the webpage

This HTML version of this article is copyright 1998 by Frank Muller P,E., Esq. and Richard A. Coughlin P.E., MBA. All rights reserved, used by permission.

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