What if the disagreement cannot be resolved even after fully exploring and uncovering both partners’ interests? Or if the issue of disagreement is ethical or some kind of “deal-breaker”?
If a mutual decision cannot be arrived at after surfacing all of the partners’ interests, then the partnership should consider an intentional disbanding or dissolution of the collaborative relationship. Depending on the emotional climate, the partners may be able to facilitate themselves through that conversation. If they are drained or feeling some negative emotions and concerns, or if they are afraid of damage to the relationship or project, the partners may wish to involve a trained and experienced mediator to facilitate a dissolution or separation conversation (plan and agreements).
In the journey of the collaborative relationship, that would be the stage called planned exit.
A planned exit maintains everyone’s dignity and helps preserve the relationship for the future even if you never attempt a partnership or collaboration again. It also enables the surrounding community to not have to side with either party, as the planned exit was discussed and mutual. In a way it is the last agreement you make together, which makes a deposit in the emotional bank account of the relationship even though the project is ending. This is not an easy decision to come to or an easy stage to go through, as it is one that involves some degree of loss, grief, or disappointment. The hoped-for ideal and vision of the project is not to be realized and the investments made may also not be fruitful as expected.
At this time it can be helpful to have a bit of a break from one another, and move through some of the feelings of a loss or grief before or working again with those former collaborative partners. That is the best-case scenario.
However, depending on how many pinches and crunches there were along the way to the realization that maybe you were not in sufficient agreement to move forward as collaborators, there may not be much goodwill left. It is sad when that happens. In those cases it is sometimes not possible to return to the level of relationship that existed prior to the disbanding or planned exit.
In the stage of planned exit the parties need to talk about whether the project is still going to move forward, and if so, how. The collaboration or partnership may end, but if enough people are involved and they were well on the way to implementing the project, they need to discuss how it may continue if either party is still hoping to remain involved. Maybe one of the partners alone takes over the project.
As this is another stage of negotiation it may be helpful to have an outside mediator/facilitator to assist with those discussions. It is important that the facilitator/mediator be a person who is acceptable to both parties.
It can also be important at this stage to decide what will be said publicly about the change or ending of the collaborative relationship. As well, it may be important to form a written separation or dissolution agreement to summarize the new understanding arrived at, especially if the project is now going to be taken up by one of the partners.