Do you ever wonder what the difference is between partnerships and alliances? It’s an interesting question, and one that has a few possible answers. Those answers range from “there is no difference” to “it depends …” to “there is a huge difference”!

The words partnerships and alliances are generally used interchangeably. So, from that perspective there is no difference. However, the word partnerships is often used as an overarching word for all types of collaborations between organisations. So, it might be confusing to use the word partnership over a more specific word, because by using the word partnership – what exactly does it mean? Add to that the fact that in some countries the word partnership has a legal meaning with obligations attached to it and you should consider carefully if it’s the right word to describe what you mean.  

It also depends on the type of collaboration you are forging with a partner. Many terms are used by lots of people interchangeably. Take for instance, the term “joint venture”. Coming from a corporate background, people tend to have the perception that a joint venture is a separate entity where two or more companies jointly hold the shares. However, coming from a small business background, people tend to have the perception that a joint venture is a joint project between two small businesses.This type of collaboration lasts as long as the project lasts. Clearly two different perceptions for the same term.

Some people confuse the terminology even further by using the word alliance when they mean a channel relationship or a licensing deal. Bring all those terms together and you’ll see a wide landscape of collaborative agreement possibilities between organisations. This is what I call the “collaborative business spectrum”. This spectrum provides an overview of the several types of collaborations and forms as such, a guide to create clarity in the field of business collaborations. Clarity is essential. Agreeing on a clear definition of the terms you use with your partner removes many obstacles to communication and pushes your collaboration forward more smoothly.

That’s why I spend ample time in my Alliance Masterclass discussing the several terms and viewpoints with my participants. Clearing the foggy landscape and creating clarity in the journey to alliance mastery. After all, clarity precedes mastery!

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