Strategic Relationships

Developing stakeholder relationships is a key aspect of systems building. State leaders have a critical responsibility to determine, develop, and sustain necessary strategic relationships as part of achieving intended systems reform efforts. Strategic relationships[1] fuel the design, implementation, and improvement of an early childhood and school-age system.

There can be no system without the human actors who inhabit it and take the actions that bring it to life. Put differently, how the system works arises from how we work; how people think and act shapes how the system works as a whole.[2]

Relationships require care, just like your family or your significant other. Don’t take them for granted, or you may be missing out on the biggest opportunities for changes in the systems that benefit children and families.

Underlying all systems building efforts is the most pivotal systems building concept—building and sustaining strong, trusting relationships. No governance change, strategic planning, policy and program development, or other endeavor can be successful and sustainable over time without enlightened self-interest, of which the primary purpose is to simultaneously serve the group’s goals and individual interests.

The term “strategic relationship” is defined as an “agreement between two or more entities to conduct specified activities or processes, to achieve specified objectives.”[3] More than that, strategic relationships are an important part of our development and how we learn about others as much as they are about getting something done together. Strategic relationships are about being resourceful for others while also asking for things that you need. This allows you to create connections with people at multiple levels. For example, this can mean having a strategic thought partner with whom you think out loud—confidentially—about different elements of the early childhood system, ranging from early childhood policy to implementation and focusing on strategic guidance and tactical advice. Once you build a relationship, it becomes an “existing relationship.” Like all relationships, it needs specific sustenance to be strategic[4]


[1] Senge, P., Scharmer, C.O., Jaworski, J., & Flowers, B.S. (2004). Presence: Exploring profound change in people, organizations and society. New York, NY: Currency, Doubleday; Gladwell, M. (1999). Six degrees of Lois Weisberg. The New Yorker, Jan. 11, 1999. New York, NY: Condé Nast.

[2] Senge, P., Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J., & Schley, S. (2010). The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. New York, NY: Crown Business, p. 169.

[4] Dayton, A. (May 11, 2011). 3 powerful ways to nourish relationships to help business boom. Marketing strategy and the law social media edition. Retrieved from