Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Forget Your Inhibitions and Get in Bed with a Competitor

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Forget Your Inhibitions and Get in Bed with a Competitor

Article excerpt

Institutions are instinctively wary of their rivals but building partnerships can be beneficial for everyone

As leaders we are expected to champion the interests of our own institutions. It's part of our core purpose; it helps to hold our "gang" together. In a market context, our default mode is competitive: if we're Montagues, the people down the road must be Capulets.

So if anyone suggests a collaboration with another provider or school, the response is often: "Why should we help them?" The assumption is: "They're out for themselves, they don't have our interests at heart." Why would the Jets want to come to the aid of the Sharks?

But no institution is an island and we know that students and staff can benefit in many ways from partnership with others. Surely mature, self-confident organisations can form productive relationships with a competitor?

They can and many do, but it's not easy. So what do we need if we are to start thinking as system leaders?


Partnership can't be rushed. It requires an investment of time to understand how others see the world, and you have to help them understand your perspective and the things that matter to you. The assumptions you uncover may surprise everyone.


A good relationship is based on trust and this needs to be built incrementally at the personal level, particularly between leaders. The foundations of mutual trust are laid as each partner learns, bit by bit, that the other can be relied upon to deliver on commitments. Depending on someone else becomes less risky if you know they will be there for you. Asking for help should be seen as a measure of self-awareness, not a sign of weakness. Giving help should be a pleasure, not an opportunity to assume dominance.


It's important to be open about differences, strengths and weaknesses. Each institution has its distinctive mission and there's no point pretending we're all in the same position. The honesty has to start at the top, where reservations and aspirations can be shared safely.


This starts with how we talk to each other and about each other. If you are seeking to build a partnership, you cannot publicly criticise others or share assumptions about their motives or actions. Your role is to help your colleagues understand the perspectives of others and the rationale of any partnership, as well as to hear their concerns and aspirations. …

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