Case Study: First Nations Partnering

First Nation – Telecommunications Co. Partnering Discussions

The Situation

In 2005, a Canadian Telecommunications company was looking at the potential for partnerships with a prominent, progressive First Nation based in Eastern Canada. Knowing that this partnership workshop would include the most senior leadership from both sides, and wanting a specific, tangible outcome rather than a typical partnering agreement from which nothing came, the client chose to engage CT to design and deliver the partnership workshop.

The Process

The TelCo’s Executive Boardroom with its mammoth mahogany table and individual microphones were eschewed for the executive lounge, where the CT team quickly rearranged sofas, easy chairs, end tables and plants to make a quiet, casual circle that would support an open-ended conversation. Despite the weather being fine, several of the First Nations delegates were substantially late to the process, and with every voice needing to be at the table for the conversation, the bulk of the attendees could only pass the time quietly, waiting for full quorum to be achieved. Several of the TelCo team were ruffled by this inattentiveness to the clock, but with a basic tenet (posted on the wall that morning)_ that “whenever it starts is the right time”, the CT team was calm.

Once quorum was achieved, it was of some obvious surprise to see the First Nations attendees’ shock at the structure and format of the event – at how it seemed familiar in an unfamiliar way. The CT team took the stakeholders through a very honest need/offer analysis which quickly pointed out elements on either side that could not change. The fundamental stumbling blocks, and well as the clear opportunities for success, lay before their collective eyes on a projected screen within half an hour of their arrival. For this partnership to succeed meaningfully, several key stumbling blocks would have to be cleared away before any of the potential value could be created.

With the right people in the room, the CT team enabled the difficult conversations, made simpler by their stark, clear presentation, and a reasonable conversation resulted in documented process changes and allowances (on both sides) to mitigate each key risk element.

Once it was obvious that the partnership could now survive first contact, the attendees went back to the need/offer analysis, this time to plumb it for actual partnering opportunities. Dozens of such opportunities were noted, categorized and then prioritized in the interest of finding “quick hits”.

The Outcome

At the end of a single day of work, two clients teams who had never worked together in formal partnership now had a resilient, useful partnering agreement in place. Each knew what value they needed, what value they brought, and what elements of their business or culture were non-negotiable. Each understood the value proposition, the risks and the limitations, and they had determined first steps to move forward on those partnering area seen as potentially offering first benefit.

In the closing plenary, the Grand Chief of the First Nation, talking stick in hand, praised the flow of the day, and stated specifically that, to his mind, this was the first time in over 400 years that he felt a First Nation had been treated like an equal by a “European Company.” And he was pointing to the CT team when he said, “And that’s why.”