Understand what causes one of the major barriers to contract performance — and how you can break it.

The goal of doing things through contract is for two parties to achieve their shared and individual goals more effectively than they could on their own. But when independent parties are engaged in a performance exchange, they each bring their own unique context. If either party lacks understanding of their partner’s context, it creates a major barrier to shared performance. We call it “The Context Barrier”.

The Context Barrier

When your outcomes depend on achieving shared performance with an independent partner, you need to understand what causes the context barrier—and how you can break it—if you want to deliver maximum value for your customers, shareholders and community.

Whether your partnership is kicking goals, falling short, or just starting out, it is possible to work with your contract partner to break the context barrier and achieve better performance—without resorting to combative or time-intensive interventions.

What causes the context barrier?

Each party’s context is determined by their interests and wants (their goals, drivers, requirements, expectations and constraints). Despite sharing common goals, each party’s interests and wants are often different. This is a normal and healthy part of every performance exchange. In fact, it’s the differences between parties that make the exchange of performance valuable in the first place.

Interests and wants have a major influence on the performance each party gives to the exchange, as well as the performance they want from each other.

Of course, differences can sometimes create tension. But when parties invest time and effort to understand each other’s contexts (by gaining a deeper appreciation of their interests and wants), this tension can be resolved, without resulting in conflict or performance deviations.

By continually working to understand the other party’s interests and wants, and helping them understand yours, you’ll be able to align your expectations, ensure both parties deliver the right performance, and work together to achieve your shared and independent goals.

How to break the context barrier

Breaking the context barrier isn’t easy, but there are a few simple things you can do to make a difference and start improving shared performance:


Define shared goals. Without a common goal, achieving performance through partnerships is impossible—and you can’t rely on high-level, conceptual objectives. Instead, take the time to define concrete goals both parties can agree on, then work together to define what success looks like and develop a roadmap to get there together.


Align expectations. Poorly defined or articulated expectations are a common cause of suboptimal performance in partnerships. Instead of assuming your partner is intentionally ignoring your expectations, work with them to ensure mutual understanding of what you need—remembering to ask what they might need from you to better deliver their performance.


Clarify (mis)perceptions. When any aspect of your partner’s unique context is unclear to you, the potential for misunderstanding is amplified. Often, simply talking with your counterparts and demonstrating a genuine desire to understand is enough to uncover and correct the misperceptions that can cause performance-limiting tension.


Understand their preferences. When you’re working with people from another party, the simplest things—like whether they prefer email or phone calls—can have a big impact on the quality of the relationship and the performance you deliver together. Make the effort to find out how your partners like to work, then adapt your approach accordingly—you’re guaranteed to notice the difference.

How we can help

We’ve spent the last 16 years helping organisations overcome their most complex project and asset problems. We’ve taken that experience and combined it with our unique approach to getting performance through partnerships, to develop our Performance Reset and Realignment workshop series.

The workshops are designed to help you and your partners break the context barrier, and boost partnership performance without resorting to combative and time-intensive interventions.

Click here to download a copy of the Performance Reset and Realignment workshop series brochure.