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Relationship Is NOT The Same As Partnership

I was at a client recently and I expressed the view that this client wasn't particularly adept at forming partnerships and yet they had it as a key component of their future. I wasn't disagreeing with their future state, it's admirable to behold, but I was raising it as a large risk that they saw themselves as being an organisation that with very strong partnerships (at an international, national, governmental, business and community level) as key to their being and yet they didn't have a history of such behaviour.

And I was rightly challenged on my view as I am by no means the font of all knowledge with this organisation and there were many in the room that had a long history with it.

A number of 'partnerships' were rolled out, some were acknowledged as having atrophied over time, and some were now being seen as more 'procurement processes' (you have / do 'a' and we'll give you $n for it ... that's not a partnership I would trust my business to, that's merely buying stuff.

A few partnerships mentioned to me were true and new to me - I learnt something and acknowledged it.

However, the majority of those discussed were in fact relationships and it was only afterwards, as I let my brain cogitate on what had been said, that I realised the difference and the major risk of believing 'relationships' are 'partnerships'.

This is what I came up with to explain it, I hope it helps.

A relationship is something 1 person, or entity if you wanna get all logical on my ass, has for another.
It is based upon mutual understanding of each other's needs, is enclosed by a boundary, and can be 'sensed' by others. It can come be built up over time, through activity, via circumstances or even through other relationships. A relationship is what sits between the 1 party and the other.

The classic relationship we can think of is between a couple - when one person is in a relationship with another there is a connection, a mutual understanding, a boundary around them that everyone can see or sense. Think of someone now that you would say 'I am in a relationship with ..." - see how that feels different to, say, a work colleague, or the dairy owner (unless you're in a relationship with them, of course).

In a work context we all have relationships - I have a relationship with my clients, I have a relationship with key members of the Hack Miramar community, I have a relationship with certain fine folks that bring me work. These are 1-1 relationships with named people. Some are tight relationships and some are looser, but they all exhibit the three key attributes, mutual understanding, boundary and can be 'sensed' by others.

My client termed a lot of these relationships as partners. But they were not, they were deep, on-going relationships, but they weren't partnerships.

So what's a partnership?
A partnership is when 2 (or more?) parties/groups/organisations work together for a specific purpose sharing resources, risks and benefits. In essence it's when we collaborate.

A partnership is an active behaviour, it's something that can be seen in movement, and has a very defined purpose. No-one says a partnership can be "sensed', it is there in black-and-white on the partnership agreement and in the way people behave with each other.

A partnership will also have a defined purpose, a stated end goal (which may be waaaay off in the distant future but is still there). Again, there is no mere "mutual understanding of each others needs" and then hoping that some sort of lovein will occur.

Of course, the best partnerships are those that involve deep and constructive relationships by the people involved BUT there is nothing in the rules that says that has to happen, you can partner with your worst enemy if you like, as long as it has a defined purpose and active behaviour then away it will stumble.

So there you have it, relationships are between people and live in the spaces, partnerships are between organisations and live in purpose.

What about personal relationships, maybe you even call your spouse your partner it's very common in New Zealand for that to be the case. Sure, be a partner, The Riversdale family is built upon deep and massively strong relationships but we're also partners, I am a parent partner with a defined purpose of working towards my kids future. I am also a partner of my wife as we plan our lives together, what we want out of it. It's written and we will catch ourselves on when we don't act accordingly. The partnership can be for specific things, it can be long term but it's NOT the relationship, that's what exists between us, and only us.

Go well in both your relationships and your partnerships.