The Fourth Element: Workplace Partnership


Partnership between management, employees and trade unions can take many forms, but always requires openness, transparency and two-way communication. At the very least it can be an effective tool for positive industrial relations, minimising conflict and resistance to change. 

So this means that industrial relations go beyond adversarial bargaining; it looks for win-win outcomes for the organisation and its employees. It means partnership forums, times and spaces where senior managers and trade unions or employee representatives get together to tackle big issues in a climate of openness and trust. 

Yet partnership can also transcend the industrial relations sphere. Where it works best, partnership blows through the entire organisation. It stimulates dialogue and, like a wind, carries the seeds of innovation both ways between senior management and frontline employees.

An important body of research has begun to show that representative partnership structures on their own may have little direct impact on performance or quality of working life. Rather they can exert a positive influence on the development of activities and practices that may do so. 

Kaiser Permanente, one of the biggest healthcare providers in the US, offers a particularly striking example of this. Its Labor-Management Partnership has driven improvements in the quality of care through employee-led innovation, leading to win-win-win outcomes for patients, management and employees.

When partnership arrangements exist alongside the types of participative workplace practices described in the previous three Elements it creates a system of mutually reinforcing practices leading to improved information sharing, greater levels of trust, reduced resistance to change and heightened performance. This combination of representative and direct involvement is known as “employee voice”. 

[Click here for a recent UK guide to Employee Voice].


Effective partnership implies shared leadership. Leaders of innovative organisations know that everyone can lead in particular areas if they’re given the right opportunities. They foster everybody’s potential for innovation. They recognise that other people, even unexpected people, may have the answers when they’re given the opportunity to think and innovate together, to experiment, to make mistakes without being blamed.

Effective boards and senior management teams don’t pretend to understand how things really work in practice at the frontlines of their organisations. They don’t think of their organisations as black boxes that will just deliver the outcomes they want without them having to understand how. They don’t assume that employees will just follow their decrees enthusiastically and without question. 

They leave management by spreadsheet behind.

These leaders know that both strategic and operational decisions are better when they’re based on open dialogue involving everyone who might be affected. When they’re based on open access to the important knowledge and information that might influence outcomes. On transparency and candour. And when they’re based on the force of the better argument rather than the force of hierarchy. 



Workplace Partnership

Themes - coming soon

Case studies - coming soon

Articles - coming soon


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