Like any major undertaking collaboration requires planning to be successful and a critical aspect of this planning is developing and exit strategy.  The simple fact of the matter is that it is unreasonable to think that everyone entering into the partnership will remain a member of the partnership. This exit strategy will define how a collaboration partner can leave the partnership and what steps will be taken from both sides to end the partnership.  The collaborative partnership will not end if one or two partners leave and you must think about this potential separation when entering into a partnership agreement. 

Every professional relationship should begin with an agreement that covers both the beginning of the relationship and the requirements for ending the relationship.  I’ve discussed previously the importance of open and honest communications with your partners and the formal agreement provides the foundation framework for this communication.  This agreement will provide for the smooth entry into the collaborative partnership along with a smooth exit from the partnership.  It is important to define these criteria and expectations early on in the partnership in order to limit any misunderstandings as the partnership progresses.  As I mention above, not all of your partners entering into the relationship will remain, some will inevitably decide that the partnership or the collaboration does not bring the benefits that they originally anticipated.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and it is just a fact of the relationship. 

However, the initial agreement and then the initial entry into the partnership will be much stronger with these entry and exit criteria clearly defined.  The time to discuss and clarify any expectations is at the beginning of the agreement.  This will allow all sides to clearly define their expectations when entering the agreement and it allows all sides to clearly define the exit criteria and steps when terminating the agreement.  This type of agreement should be standard across all partners and as modifications and improvements are made to the agreement the modifications should be extended to all of the partners.  This will be critical as new partners enter the collaboration network and existing partners exit the network.  Each time you must expect a new condition to be identified and when that occurs it is important to revise the network agreement to support the new conditions. 

As with any other activity you must institute a continuous improvement program to support your partnership agreement.  The agreement provides your guidelines, or guard rails, to support your network and these guidelines must include your principles of operations.  Remember this agreement lays the foundation for your communications and when you start the agreement with open communications your partnership will have a strong foundation for growth and delivering the anticipated benefits.  

And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have your started or are you in the midst of an institutional change initiative?  What are the key traits you have identified as required to support the initiative?  Have you contemplated the name or phrase for the person leading your initiative?