Like weddings, most cross-sector partnerships have greater potential for success when they are well-organized. With wedding planning in mind, we've identified four questions you and your partners should be asking (and answering) to set your cross-sector partnership on a path to success.

Many cross-sector partnerships struggle to achieve their stated impact - or shared result. These partnerships face many challenges, but one of the main struggles relates to building the right structure and bringing in the right partners to the partnership. Building a structure that makes sense for you and your partners is possible, but it does take time, thought and planning. We’ve found a useful metaphor to think about this work that many people can relate to: a wedding.

Living Cities believes that collective impact presents one of the most promising models for achieving dramatically better results for communities, faster. But regardless of your structure for collaboration, most cross-sector partnerships, like most weddings, have greater potential for success when they are well-organized. So, what questions should you and your partners be asking and answering to set your cross-sector partnership on a path to success? Based on our experience supporting over 70 different collective impact initiatives, we’ve identified four questions–with wedding planning in mind!

Question 1: What is the shared result that your cross-sector partnership is trying to achieve?

A wedding has a goal–usually to celebrate two people’s love for one another and for guests have a great time. In cross-sector partnerships, this goal can sometimes be murkier, or viewed differently by different stakeholders involved. So get clear on the goal first, and then build the partnership from there. This can mean the difference between a goal like, “our cross-sector partnership will work together to make sure babies are born healthy and ready to thrive,” and a goal like, “90% of the labor force will be employed by the year 2020.”

Resource Document: Four Components of a Shared Result that Creates Enduring Change
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Question 2: What would a map or chart of your cross-sector partnership’s structure need to look like to achieve its shared result?

At a wedding, the seating chart creates a structure for the whole of the event and helps guests understand where they belong. In building the seating chart, the hosts aim to design a structure that will support the overall goal (e.g. celebrating love and partying). They seat guests with people they’ll enjoy (fun at a table contributes to the fun of the whole group). But, the guests aren’t stuck at their table all night–they’re circulating and connecting with other guests on the dance floor, talking to one another, visiting the restroom, or hitting the dessert buffet.

Creating a “"wedding seating chart" can manifest itself in many ways for a cross-sector partnership. But, we’ve observed that partnerships find it valuable to document and solidify the relationships between the partners, in the same way that the bride and groom create place settings for their guests. Cross-sector partnerships might establish procedures and processes; articulate differentiated roles and commitments; and create operating documents, memorandum of understanding, contracts, or other documentation.

Resource Document: Wedding Seating Chart Exercise
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Question 3: How do partners plug into the different components of your cross-sector partnership?

At a wedding, the vision for and execution of the event is steered by the individuals with authority—those getting married (or maybe those paying the bill). However, everyone involved from the wedding party to the guests to the officiant to the caterers to the band have distinct roles and responsibilities for making the event successful.

But not every person is best suited for every role or every position on the dance floor. Would you have a distant cousin that you haven’t seen in a decade choose the wedding rings? Would you seat the newlyweds at different tables in the back corners of the room? Of course not—that wouldn’t go over well! In a cross-sector partnership, like at a wedding, achieving success is dependent on the right individuals contributing in the right ways. Different individuals fill different roles in an organization, and therefore contribute differently to your partnership. A CEO of a major employer can do different things for your partnership than an HR manager from that same company, and you should plug them into the partnership accordingly.

Question 4: How do you need to refine your cross-sector partnership to support success as your work evolves?

This can be the hardest part of managing a cross-sector partnership. You’ve taken the time to map out the players and get them to work together, but as the work evolves, you may need to make some changes. As you refine your understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, some partners may not fit into the partnership in the same way, or you may learn others need to join. In the same way that you may need to find a last-minute venue for your all-outdoor wedding because of an impending thunderstorm, a cross-sector partnership may need to shift from its original plan. These shifts may be as hard as trying to fit 200 wet people into the local church, but in the end, all that matters is that two people celebrate their love with friends and family, and your cross-sector partnership successfully achieves its shared result.

Want to learn more about your cross-sector partnership’s structure and representatives? Check out Living Cities’ new, free Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment:

Resource Document: Cross-Sector Partnership Assessment
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Join the conversation about cross-sector partnerships at or on Twitter with @Living_Cities and the hashtag #xsector.