We examine trends at different stages of cross-sector partnership development, and what they might mean for your work.

This is the second post in a two part series. Read part one: “Four Trends to Consider as Cross-Sector Partnerships Begin a New Year.”


We hope that you received some valuable insights from our last post on the results of our Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment. In this post, we’re sharing the fourth major learning we found in exploring the responses we received from 750 cross-sector partnerships across the United States. We’re focusing exclusively on the evolution of a cross-sector partnership from inception to achieving results.

We’ll be using the framework of Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development to categorize the responses we received about the growth and development of cross-sector partnerships. Each partnership that completed the Assessment is categorized as fitting into one of four different stages from the Tuckman framework: “form,” “storm,” “norm,” and “perform.” Here’s what we mean:

  • “Form” stage: The partnership has formed. Participants have shared information about their work and talked about what they hope to achieve.
  • “Storm” stage: Participants have communicated fundamental differences of opinion, addressed how to work with partners they may not know or trust, and are working to figure out objectives, roles and leadership for the partnership.
  • “Norm” stage: Participants have developed a shared understanding of their purpose and are beginning to focus more of their energy on the problems they are trying to solve.
  • “Perform” stage: Participants are in full agreement about the work that needs to be done and are actively working together to achieve the partnership’s shared result.

(For more information on the distinctions between these stages, check out Alison Gold’s paper What Barriers? Insights from Solving Problems through Cross-Sector Partnerships.)

Regardless of the formality of a partnership, it will go through all stages of the form/storm/norm/perform cycle.

You may be struggling to get members of your partnership to agree to a shared vision, or have participants of the group with fundamentally different opinions of what that vision should be. In some cases, the folks sitting around your table may not even see themselves as members of a cross-sector partnership yet!

Not to worry—we found in our research that every cross-sector partnership goes through “growing pains” in order to reach the stage when they can perform and achieve their shared result!

Table indicating performance across different types of cross-sector partnerships

Thus, the stage each partnership is at probably has more to do with how long the partnership has been in operation than how it is structured. We discuss in our last blog post some of the other merits of organizing formally, but this chart shows us that even once formally structured, there is a journey that each cross-sector partnership must embark on before it is able to achieve results.

Our Albuquerque Integration Initiative site was conscious about the need to norm and storm in order to be able to perform, and reevaluated who was at its leadership table in March of 2016. While the roles and responsibilities were established from the start and the partnership was a formal one, they found themselves needing to reevaluate their structure and membership after around two years of operation to maximize their ability to achieve results.

It’s necessary to go through each stage to proceed to the next, and ultimately arrive at the perform stage.

It’s important to remember that, if you feel as though your partnership has not yet reached a place of full agreement on desired outcomes and roles yet, every group goes through each phase of this evolution. It’s necessary to go through each stage to proceed to the next, and ultimately arrive at the perform stage.

Thank you for reading our takeaways from the results from the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment! Now that we’ve shared some best practices that emerged from our analysis of the field, here are some tools that can help you implement our findings to create results:


To share comments, questions or experiences from your own cross-sector partnership, please leave us a note in the comments section. Or, read part one of the series now.

Take the Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment