Objective The objective of this study was to describe the partnership mechanisms that supported teaching and research in aged care, in one of the 16 funded projects under the auspices of the Teaching and Research in Aged Care Service project. Located in ACT and southern NSW, the Co-operative for Healthy Ageing Research and Teaching (CHART) was comprised of eleven partners from the residential care sector, higher education, and hospital and non-government sectors. Methods A descriptive study of the project engagement and partnership processes and outcomes using documentation review and stakeholder interviews. The overarching goal of the CHART project was to facilitate the development of aged care service models that combine teaching, learning and research. This study describes (i) the processes and investment required to enable care providers to partner in teaching and research activities; and (ii) the structure and practices required to build workforce capacity and create career pathways in the sector. Results Maintaining consistency of engagement and collaboration required significant, and often invisible, investment in partnership arrangements. Overall, the partnerships were often person, rather than organisation, dependent. New student placements were introduced, but support for continued nursing placements remained variable. Local practice innovation was advanced when partnership investment was aligned at strategic and operational levels. Conclusion Continuous, and often invisible, investment in maintaining operational partnerships is critical to sustained change. Partnering in a private aged care service environment to achieve sector-wide changes was challenging, but the investment can result in innovation and service improvement.