What Is Partnering?

Partnering is a formal management process in which all parties to a project voluntarily agree at the outset to adopt a cooperative, team-based approach to project development and problem resolution to eliminate -- or at least reduce -- conflicts, litigation, and claims.

While partnering can be applied to any working relationship, it has become a common practice on large construction projects both within and outside of government. Agencies or owners, architect-engineers, construction managers, building contractors, and subcontractors all have their own priorities -- providing a potential breeding ground for conflict. Partnering helps avoid unproductive 'positioning' by generating an environment of cooperation and trust.

The Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has adopted partnering as a standard business practice for its nationwide design and construction program. Partnering has been of proven benefit to PBS in improving the quality, cost effectiveness, and timeliness of projects in the program.

PBS began to apply partnering to all new construction and modernization projects with a value of more than million in January 1994. Partnering is encouraged on smaller projects as well, especially if they are complex or controversial.

How Partnering Works

PBS solicitations for major design and construction contracts indicate intent to include partnering in the projects. PBS actively seeks contractor commitment after contract award through personal or written contact.

The 'partners' include all stakeholders -- that is anyone who can impact the project. The first step is formation of a 'partnering team' whose members represent all the groups involved in the phase of the project at hand. Team membership evolves with the project, with some members dropping out and new ones coming on board.

A facilitator provides the 'glue' that holds the process together and keeps it on track. With skills in team building and group dynamics and no vested interest in the decisions reached by the other team members, the facilitator keeps the focus on maintaining a cooperative working relationship. The facilitator may be an individual or a group and is hired by the partnering team. Funding for partnering is generally agreed upon and shared by PBS and the consultants or contractors, with no changes in contract prices.

The partnering team meets for an initial workshop or conference to define common goals and objectives, identify criteria for evaluating progress and performance, and agree on mechanisms for resolving disputes and promoting cooperation. The team members develop and sign a formal partnering agreement to define their common goals and serve as a reminder of their commitment.

Follow-up workshops are held periodically for the duration of the project, as agreed upon by PBS and the participating contractors.

The Feedback

Participants in nearly every PBS partnered project report lower stress levels than in non-partnered projects, as old adversarial attitudes break down and are replaced by a sense of mutual accountability and trust. Other management processes, such as value engineering, have been enhanced because of the cooperative environment. Studies by other federal agencies and by State groups show that partnering fosters improved safety, reduced construction time, and greater value engineering savings.

The PBS partnering program is administered by the Office of Chief Architect. Partnering is part of GSA's Construction Excellence Program, designed to provide taxpayers with outstanding and cost-effective federal buildings.

For details on partnering in federal design and construction projects, contact the PBS regional office in your geographic area.

Last Reviewed: 2019-02-26