Assessing Each Partner

The quality and effectiveness of a partnership depends on the capacity of both parties to partner. On the Assessing Partnerships page, the relationship between the cooperative state of the partners and the capacity of their partnership is explained in detail. The application of the cooperative capacity model to a partnership shows that the cooperative capacity, and thereby the effectiveness, of a partnership cannot be greater than the cooperative state of the weakest member. Thus, a critical step in building strong partnerships is the assessment and strengthening of each partner.

In the international development field, there has been progress in assessing a partner’s ability to partner. Typically, the international agency (donor, contractor, or NGO) has some form of checklist to vet potential partners. These checklists generally attempt to evaluate a potential partner’s organizational capacity in order to determine if the potential partner has basic organizational elements in place, the capacity to deliver services, and the ability to manage finances. If this organizational capacity assessment (OCA) finds weaknesses, then the outside agency may offer capacity building as part of the partnership agreement.

The weakness in this approach is that the assessments a) do not directly measure organizational effectiveness or the capacity to partner, and b) they are one-sided.

Many OCA are maturity matrices that assess certain aspects of organizational capacity, ranging from clarity of vision and mission, to legal standing, quality and effectiveness of service delivery, and strength of financial and management systems. However, the scales used for these maturity matrices are based on what the outside agency believes to be desirable traits, and the scales do not provide direct indicators of organizational effectiveness or the ability to partner. Many donor organizations would score well on such OCAs, but might not be easy or good partners.

That leads to the second point. While many international aid organizations have official systems for evaluating and building the organizational capacity of their (often local) partners, they do not have official systems for evaluating and building their own organizational capacity as partners. As a result, their ability to partner is less systemic, and more dependent on the individuals directly involved in the partnership, and the ability of those individuals to shield the partnership from negative influences of the greater donor-contractor or NGO-local partner system.

Effective organizational partnerships are only viable when each partner assesses itself, and when both partners give and receive constructive feedback.

The cooperative capacity models described below address these weaknesses in assessing partners. Together, a cooperative state assessment and the maturity matrix provide hard leading indicators for an organization’s effectiveness and its ability to partner. This model works for all types of organizations, from community groups to multinational donor and business groups. Thus, the model will provide useful assessments for all partners in any international partnership. Finally, the models provide a common framework, or language, that partners can use in providing mutual feedback and holding themselves and each other accountable to the program.

The rest of this section explains in greater detail the cooperative states and maturity matrix for assessing individual partners.​

The Importance of Cooperation

In modern management literature (such as Peter Senge’s The 5th Discipline, W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management, Jack Stack’s The Great Game of Business), participatory organization development interventions, and current explorations into systems behavior, chaos theory and organizations are all based on the realization that higher levels of cooperation within and between organizations result in higher overall performance. We refer to the ability of an organization to cooperate as Cooperative Capacity. What has been lacking from these models are ways to a) measure the cooperative capacity within organizations and b) quickly and reliably choose interventions that will most effectively increase that capacity.​

The research by Eric Wolterstorff and The Wolterstorff Group (TWG) has shown that it is possible to both quickly measure cooperative capacity, and reliably choose effective interventions with multiplier effects. The research identified an underlying relationship between performance, cooperation and stress. Cooperation is positively correlated with performance and inversely correlated with stress: Low stress promotes improved cooperation and performance, and organizations with strong cooperation manage stress better. Conversely, increased stress that cannot be managed reduces cooperation and performance.

TWG’s research found that organizational cooperative capacity does not change on a steady continuum. There are five attractor states (Cooperative States) into which an organization settles: Fragmented, Top-down, Inclusive, Accountable, and Integrated.

The Five Cooperative States

The Five Cooperative States Map, graphed below, shows the relationship between stress and cooperation (with cooperation as the proxy for performance and ability to partner). The vertical axis measures cooperative capacity, from minimal cooperation (fragmentation) to the highest level of cooperation (integration). The horizontal axis measures stress, from disassociation (the avoidance of feeling high levels of stress by not caring), to high feelings of stress. The attractor states, or Cooperative States, are shown by the colored circles. The names of the Cooperative States are general descriptions of the ‘style’ of organizations in each state. The least cooperative and lowest performing organizations are in the Fragmented State, and the most cooperative, highly performing organizations are in the Integrated state.


Cooperative States as Indicators for Each Partner’s Organizational Capacity

Below are brief descriptions of each cooperative state. They begin with bullet points of the basic characteristics of an organization in that state, which are followed by a couple of paragraphs describing the performance of an organization in that state, and how other organizations in the same and higher states will experience partnering with such an organization.

Fragmented: Few outputs are achieved; budgets are poorly managed; there is little or no ability to partner

Partnerships in the Fragmented State are unable to meet their deliverables. In the Fragmented State:

  • The organization lacks a clear vision or mission
  • Leadership is not well defined, or is contested
  • The organizational culture is one of intentional or unintentional sabotage
  • Management and communication systems are ad hoc
  • Knowledge is held informally and scattered throughout the program
  • M&E is disorganized and measurements are ad hoc
  • Stakeholders are unclear of mission and dissatisfied with implementation; relations with stakeholders are ad hoc

Fragmented partners have very poor capacity to partner or implement. If your organization is in a Top-down or higher state (Inclusive, Accountable, or Integrated), this is what it is like to partner with an organization in a Fragmented State: Agreements that you believe are organizational commitments are treated by your partner as ad hoc agreements among the parties present at the time of the agreement; commitment to the agreements beyond that moment is by convenience, and nothing more; and what appears as sabotage, lack of performance, or lack of follow-through, is simply a lack of recognition of the primacy of systemic, organizational agreements by members of the fragmented partner.

The frustrations of working with a fragmented organization often lead a Top-down, Inclusive or Accountable partner to attempt to micro-manage activities from the outside.

This can be counter-productive. Recall that the Cooperative Capacity of a partnership is limited to the Cooperative Capacity of the weaker of its partners. Although it can be frustrating, it is necessary to take the time to raise the Cooperative Capacity of the weaker partner. This cannot be avoided if the partnership is to succeed; unless both partners in a development program are able to move beyond a Fragmented State, the partnership is limited to an ad hoc existence (and likely to be closed down when funders withdraw their support). ​

Top-down: Most outputs are achieved; budgets are capably managed; there may be some short-term, minimal sustainability

Programs in the Top-down State are potentially able to meet their deliverables to a minimum acceptable standard. In the Top-down State:

  • Mission and vision are shared
  • There is one leader
  • The organizational culture is one of risk aversion and ‘just do my job’
  • Management systems are defined and top-down; staff are held accountable for performing activities
  • Leadership has access to knowledge; communication flow is top-down
  • Stakeholders understand mission and vision, but feel ignored in the implementation process
  • M&E is organized; measurements are of tasks performed

While organizations in the Top-down State may achieve their deliverables and outputs, their programs are neither flexible and responsive, nor able to enter into empowering partnerships.

To organizations in an Inclusive or higher state, a partner in a Top-down State will appear rigid, lethargic, and risk-averse. Agreements implemented by the Top-down partner will, by necessity, run through the leader of the Top-down partner, creating a bottleneck, and the Top-down organization will fight to use its own organizational systems, which are, by nature, inflexible. In this situation, developing the capacity of the partnership requires focusing on building the capacity of the Top-down partner’s leadership to lead their organization into the Inclusive State.

When two Top-down partners come together, they need to negotiate whose system will dominate. Usually, the organization that has the power advantage will require their partners to use their systems in the partnership, and be unreceptive to feedback and the sharing of authority. However, if sustainability is the goal, the partnership should adopt the local system.

Inclusive: Most outputs and some outcomes are achieved; budgets are managed adequately; inefficient but real sustainability is possible

Partnerships in the Inclusive State are able to meet and exceed their contracted deliverables. In the Inclusive state:

  • Strategic goals are shared and aligned with the vision and mission
  • Leadership listens and promotes participation
  • The organizational culture is one of loyalty, hard work, and complaint
  • Management systems promote bottom-up communication and inclusion
  • Members have access to information in a disorganized manner; information flows both up and down
  • Stakeholders understand vision, mission, and strategy, and have channels to express feedback
  • M&E systems are disorganized; measurements are of results

Partners in the Inclusive State should exceed minimum contracted deliverables and outputs. These organizations, due to the increase in bottom-up information and responsiveness, are capable of generating strong results and creating sustainable programs.

To organizations in the Accountable State, a partner in the Inclusive State will appear as a disorganized mess. Partners in the Inclusive State are not able to prioritize or measure results well. Although they have strong visions, missions, values, and strategies, they appear to partners in the Accountable State as lacking organization. Capacity-building with inclusive partners focuses on developing skills in prioritization, and developing high-functioning silos.

When two organizations that are both in the Inclusive State partner, the key issue is similar as when two Top-down organizations partner: They must negotiate which partner’s systems they will adopt for the work of the partnership. However, in this case, because inclusive organizations have more flexibility to adapt, the danger lies in creating too many ad hoc work-arounds and compromises to avoid confrontation. The result of these work-arounds is, very likely, a fragmented partnership.

For sustainability, the outside system may be chosen if the local partner wants to learn the system. If not, it is best to pick the local system. For best results, it is important to come to a voluntary agreement to use one of the two partners’ systems, and avoid ad hoc work-arounds.​

Accountable: Most outputs and outcomes are achieved; desired impact is probable; budgets are managed well within silos; programs are efficient and sustainable

Programs in the Accountable State will meet or exceed high levels of deliverables. In the Accountable State:

  • Strategic goals and action plans are shared and prioritized, and there are clear, mutually agreed-upon lines of authority
  • Leadership promotes prioritization and says ‘no’ to lesser priorities; the organization’s culture is one of heroes, accomplishment, and drama
  • Management systems promote and enable prioritization within silos
  • Within silos, cross-communication and access to information is as needed, but communication is weak across silos
  • Stakeholders participate in the design and implementation of action plans
  • M&E is organized; measurements are of results/li>

Partnerships in the Accountable State are capable of high levels of performance and meeting high levels of deliverables. Within silos, resources (budget, personnel, materials) are allocated efficiently and in line with priorities. Each silo is highly capable of partnering with stakeholders, increasing the likelihood of sustainable program delivery and sustained impacts.

To organizations in the Integrated State, partners in the Accountable State appear sub-optimal. Partners in the Integrated State know how to work with organizations in the Accountable State to move them to Integrated.

Two organizations in the Accountable State that wish to partner face the same issue as Top-down/Top-down and Inclusive/Inclusive partnerships: negotiating and choosing which partner’s systems to use. To promote sustainability, it is best to work through the local partner’s systems, unless the local partner wants to learn the outside agency’s systems.

Integrated: Maximum deliverables achieved; effective budgeting and allocation of available resources; greatest capacity for innovation and sustainable results across all aspects of the program

Organizations in the Integrated State will achieve the highest level of deliverables, effective use of budget and other resources, and create real partnerships leading to sustainability. In the Integrated State, the silo walls of the Accountable State are removed, and:

  • Strategic goals and action plans are shared and prioritized across silos; resources are allocated optimally, and shift in real-time in response to shared progress indicators
  • Leadership promotes fully integrated teamwork and sustainable impacts; the organization’s culture is one of rationality, teamwork, mutual respect, and mutual trust
  • Management systems promote learning and enable prioritization across silos; everyone in the organization has access to information they need to make timely decisions; across silos, cross-communication and access to information is as needed
  • Stakeholders understand and have channels to give feedback on vision, mission, strategy, and coordinated progress
  • M&E is organized; measurements are of results

Organizations in the Integrated State prioritize and use available resources optimally, resulting in the highest level of deliverables. The free flow of communication and ability to share resources results in more effective choices and the real-time adaptation of activities and approaches. The ability to mutually prioritize and share resources maximizes the program’s ability to make effective partnerships leading to sustainable impacts.

Organizations in the Integrated State regard all partnerships, whatever the state of the partner, as development opportunities, and know how to intervene appropriately. Integrated organizations will show clear understanding of their partners, work with their partner’s limitations (‘meet them where they’re at’) and be helpful and responsive in developing both their partners and partnerships.

Quick Analysis – Leading Indicator

TWG’s research and experience identified a leading indicator that quickly and easily reveals the Cooperative State of an organization. That leading indicator is called the stress culture. The identification of the stress culture of a program gives us a very strong indication of the Cooperative State of the program. Below are the stress cultures associated with each state:

Fragmented: Culture of intentional or unintentional sabotage: Groups and individuals are working toward their own private mission or vision

Top-Down: Culture of risk aversion, safety, and ‘just do my job’: Staff will do their job, but do not prioritize according to the strategy

Inclusive: Culture of loyalty and complaint: Staff care about the vision, mission, and strategy, work hard, and complain that the vision and mission are not being achieved

Accountable: Culture of heroes, accomplishment, and drama: Staff and departments overextend themselves to meet their goals, which are aligned with vision and mission

Integrated: Culture of rationality, teamwork, mutual trust, and mutual respect: Information and resources are shared across units to optimize achievement of vision and mission

Using CCP protocols, these stress cultures can be identified within two to three days. In some cases, this identification, along with a clear description of the holistic characteristic of the next highest Cooperative State, is enough for a program to develop capacity-building strategies and plans.

In other cases, a more detailed, holistic analysis is necessary.

Shifting States: Simple Rules

The research by TWG shows that a number of simple rules result from the model. These simple rules help guide consultants and managers in developing plans to improve a program’s cooperative capacity. The first and foremost of these rules is that a program can only shift, up or down, one state at time. ​​​

Programs shift one state at a time​

Each state serves as a foundation for the next higher state. For example, a program cannot move from Fragmented to Inclusive directly. Trying to create inclusiveness without a clear vision and mission, strong leadership, and the established systems and processes of a top-down program will not work; without the structure created in the Top-down State, the organizational foundation needed to invite participation and ownership from all staff is not there. Similarly, a program cannot move from the disorganization of the Inclusive State straight to being fully integrated without learning to prioritize, which is the hallmark of the Accountable State.

If stress or crisis is fragmenting a program, the program will move down the states one state at a time. For example, if an integrated team experiences more stress than it can manage, it members will fall back into a ‘hero’ mode in order to solve the issue confronting them. This recreates the siloed aspect to the Accountable State. If stress continues, the team members will grow extremely frustrated, lose coherence, and fall into loyal complaining – characteristic of the Inclusive State. Continued stress will eventually result in disassociation, as staff members fall back to ‘just do my job’ and eventually leave the program.

Control the rate of change

​​Change increases stress, which decreases collaboration. Change efforts that introduce too much change too fast will lead to levels of stress that will defeat the effort to build cooperative capacity.

Empower leadership to implement the changes

Without effective leadership, cooperation degrades.


After a big expenditure of energy (such as after a crisis or major change effort), proportional time must be taken to recuperate. This allows stress levels to stabilize before the next change effort.

These simple rules help consultants and managers effectively use the Five Cooperative States Map and manage programmatic improvement efforts.​

Holistic Analysis – Six Pillars and Five States

Many capacity building and organizational development efforts take a holistic approach to diagnosing and determining action. Holistic approaches normally assess organizational elements such as purpose, leadership, structure, systems, communications, skills, and culture, and then develop interventions to address strengths and weaknesses.

The work by TWG vastly simplifies this process of assessment and diagnosis. In developing the Five Cooperative States Map, TWG found that the characteristics of organizational elements are unique for each Cooperative State. For example, the level of integration of mission and vision are distinctly different for each state; systems and procedures that are in place and effective are also unique from state to state, as are communication patterns and other organizational elements.

​CCP organizes these elements into six pillars: 1) mission and vision, 2) management and systems, 3) people and capacity, 4) communication and knowledge, 5) learning and innovation, and 6) stakeholder relations. The graphic below shows each of the pillars with their components.


The fact that these elements have unique characteristics in each state has two implications. The first is that CCP can precisely identify the state of a program by assessing the pillars. The second is that, since a program can only move one state at a time, the characteristics of the next state up become the goals and objective of the capacity-building intervention. This tells us which interventions will be effective, and which interventions will not be effective. For example, if a program is in the Fragmented State, the leadership will need to develop the mission and vision for the program in order to organize the program and bring it into the Top-down State. On the other hand, to move from the Top-down State to the Inclusive State, the mission, vision, and strategies must be shared with, and then become owned by, all staff. The first movement calls for top-down decision making, and the second movement initiates participatory decision-making. Both are appropriate for the specific situation; however, if participation is promoted when moving from Fragmented to Top-down, or top-down decision making is used when moving from Top-down to Inclusive, the interventions will fail.

The following section shows in more detail an example of how the combination of the Cooperative Capacity model and holistic assessment identifies the most effective interventions from the large number of possible interventions.

Choosing Interventions for Capacity Building

When beginning a capacity-building effort, there is always a large number of possible interventions that seem to have the potential to help an organization. The purpose of any organizational analysis is to identify the best possible capacity-building interventions out of these possibilities. CCP’s approach — combining the Cooperative State Map and the Maturity Matrix, and using the simple rules — quickly filters out ineffective interventions and identifies the few high leverage interventions that will result in sustainable, improved organizational capacity. This analytical process is illustrated below.


To develop an organization from Fragmented to Integrated, based on CCP’s Six Pillars Maturity Matrix, there are at least 360 organizational interventions.

By applying the simple rule that an organization can only move one state at a time, and identifying the current state of an organization, the possible number of interventions is quickly reduced to seventy-two. These are the interventions that will move an organization from its current Cooperative State to the next highest state. Any other interventions which do not directly move an organization to the next highest Cooperative State will be at best ineffective, and at worst detrimental to the capacity-building effort.

Once the current state is identified by an organization-wide workgroup, sub-groups (organized by pillar) conduct an analysis of each of the six pillars of the Maturity Matrix. Based on their analyses, the sub-groups choose one to three priority interventions in their pillar, reducing the number of interventions to six to eighteen possibilities.

After the the small workgroups identify six to eighteen possibilities, the organization-wide workgroup reconvenes, and chooses one to three priority interventions that will be most effective in moving the organization to the next state. The simple rule, ‘control the rate of change’, is the basis for limiting the number of interventions implemented at one time. The higher the cooperative capacity of an organization, the more interventions it can implement simultaneously.

Change Management

CCP harnesses TWG’s experience in change management in order to support programs and help them implement their organizational improvement plans. TWG found the following three elements critical to successfully implementing programmatic change:

    1. Establish a strong conceptual understanding of the next cooperative state in the minds of all team members and stakeholders. It is critical that leadership and staff know where the team is headed and is committed to that goal.
    2. Cultivate and sustain excitement. It is relatively easy to generate excitement at the beginning of a change process, but sustaining that excitement can be difficult. Developing a balanced scorecard that monitors the movement toward the next Cooperative State allows the team to celebrate successes and maintain momentum.
    3. Practice. New team habits that support moving to the next Cooperative State must be established and become the normal way of working as a team. Providing top-down directions, or developing and participating in inclusive systems, or prioritizing among difficult choices all require new skills, and new skills are not acquired overnight. Both management and staff need to practice new skills until they become habitual ways of working.

CCP offers follow-up services to provide support, discipline, motivation, and advice to help its clients move to higher Cooperative States.

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