In our professional, personal, and sociable worlds we interact with various entities throughout our day-to-day activity. We consider our relationships with entities on “our” side (i.e., having shared passions and common goals) as alliances or partnerships, and human relationships with entities on the “other” side (i.e., having inversely correlated passions or conflicting goals) as adversarial or competitive.

There may be relationships that are neither, but they are more likely to be obligatory in nature (e.g., with regulators). Alliances and partnerships are founded on a unique set of concepts that distinguish them from other styles of relationships. While the majority of these may seem common-sensical and obvious, it may be beneficial to list them down explicitly to serve as a checklist for building strong and sustainable partnerships, and as helpful information to avoid a few of its pitfalls.

1. Two-way exchange, based on give and take: Partnerships exemplify the old adage – it takes two hands to clap. Asymmetric partnerships, where one partner does all (or most) of the providing and the other does all (or most) of the taking are usually short-lived. For any relationship to be sustainable, the giving and the taking must remain commensurate or at least perceived to be so.

The conditions and conditions that form the foundation for a collaboration to define the type, quantum and scope of the give and take between companions, and as such may be taken to represent a social contract (if not a legal one). 2. Fair exchange of value: The terms of engagement in such sociable or legal collaboration contracts are grasping to represent a fair exchange of value between the partners. In formal agreements between governments, companies, and other organizations, such terms are spelled out in a document signed-off by both partners explicitly. In informal relationships such as friendships, romantic relationships etc. the terms are usually implicit and tacitly understood.

However, disconnects can and do happen when these conditions are either not known by one of the companions or are interpreted in different ways. 3. Peer-to-peer, not master-slave: Because partnerships derive from engagement terms that represent a good exchange of value, partnerships are intrinsically relationships of equals, and neither part can honestly claim with an “upper hand” on the other. Quite often, one partner tends to be more prominent and drives the partnership hard. Traditionally, in the commercial world, customers have a tendency to drive their suppliers hard by leveraging their power of preference, just as in male dominated societies it is known as normal for husbands to dominate over their wives.

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Such tendencies rot the sustainability of the relationship and weaken it. In the most extreme cases, relationships in which one partner continuously and unreasonably dominates over the other may be termed “abusive”. 4. Commitment to continuity: Partnerships are built on commitments (by both partners) to common goals and distributed passions within the platform of the conditions of engagement.

Unless explicitly time-bound, such commitments are presumed to keep indefinitely. The principles in the above list are equally valid at organizational as well as individual levels, in professional, social, and personal contexts. When partnerships fail, it could invariably be due to violation of one or more of these principles. Alternatively, the most vibrant and fulfilling partnerships are finding to reach your goals on each count highly.