Problems With Partnerships

Fellow Leeds blogger Todd Hannula has shared some of his concerns about ‘partnership’ over at his Social Catalyst blog which prompted me to comment.  I think this matters because so often I see partnerships of competent, mature and capable organisations that  in ‘partnership’ become the corporate equivalent of  a three year old having a temper tantrum in a sweet shop.

I work with a chief executive who has a plaque in his (home) office that says ‘Partnership: the temporary suspension of mutual loathing in pursuit of funding’.  How true in many cases!
One of the challenges is that partnership is a ‘weasel word’ with many definitions:

  1. a relationship of two or more entities conducting business for mutual benefit
  2. a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labour for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses.
  3. The persons bound by such a contract.
  4. A relationship between individuals or groups that is characterised by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal: Neighbourhood groups formed a partnership to fight crime.

Then there are different types and levels of partnership:

  • Self Interested Partnerships – only put in place in pursuit of funding
  • Mutual Partnership – in pursuit of a single relatively narrow agenda that benefits both parties
  • Strategic Partnership – characterised by a wider and longer term context and relationship
  • Shared Destiny Partnership – close to a merger situation where both partners share a single vision and go a long way towards the integration of cultures and systems. All partners face extinction as a consequence of failure.

One of the challenges in making any partnership work is to recognise it for what it is, be up front about it and manage the partnership accordingly.   Don’t pretend that a self interested partnership is in fact deeply strategic.  And never try to build a strategic partnership based on what you can win in the short term.

Make sure that all partners know exactly what type of partnership they are pursuing as differing expectations can be very damaging.

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