Collaboration may have become a hot trend in business and industry circles.  Another very popular trend is the use of partners and partnership.  I think though that for many organizations these terms have been repurposed to describe their existing client / service provider relationships.  This repurposing is blurring line, or more accurately blurring the definitions of the terms collaboration and partner.  I have seen and been on both sides of the line in these relationships and very often I quickly realize that many organizations and especially large organizations have redefined these terms in describing their relationships with service providers. 

As I’ve previously discussed the definition of collaboration is working with each other to do a task and to achieve shared goals.  The definition of partners, or partnership is a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks and profits.  You can see from both definitions that there is a focus on sharing whether they share goals, risks and profits depends on the initiative.  The key though is sharing with a person or another organization.  This sharing act is where I think the difference between definition and actuality is focused.  In reality I think that most companies, and especially large companies enter into the relationship with the attitude that they are more than willing to share as long as the other side of the relationship accepts their goals and risks as their own.  The profit part of the definition does not generally enter into the equation in many companies entering into a collaboration or partner relationship with another company or organization the profits are never included in the relationship.  I would say that the profits side of the relationship is generally accepted as the charges that a service provider negotiates to perform the services desired by the customer.  Does this sound familiar in your business relationships?

Way back in the 1980’s and 1990’s a trend took hold in employee relations and companies started calling their employees ‘associates’ in an effort to highlight what these companies project as the importance of the relationship.  In this definition, these people that worked for the company were not just employees, they were associates and the company valued their opinion.  The reality of the relationship did not change however, the employee performed the exact same duties and had the exact same input in the running of the company, the company simply changed the name from employee to associate and in doing that changed the definition of associate. 

I see that most companies and especially large companies are taking the same approach with collaboration and partnership.  In other words, they are still engaging in a client / service provider relationship and they redefine the terms partner and collaboration.  This is can be overcome though with regular evaluations and adjustments to the relationship and agreements.


And now for the audience participation portion of the show…

Have you discussed with your leadership how to select the type of relationship to enter into with a new potential partner?  What questions do you answer in order to determine the model?  Do you re-evaluate your relationship on a regular basis in order to revise the relationship?