Alignment Solutions Newsletter: Partnership or Team? Knowing the Difference is Key to Success

Partnership or Team?
Knowing the Difference is Key to Success

Alignment solution: Your success in achieving desired outcomes with others requires that you understand and honor a key difference between partnerships and teams.

A recent conversation with two colleagues led to a discussion about the difference between partnerships and teams. Whereas a key characteristic of teams is having a common goal, they said, partnerships don’t require a shared goal to achieve outcomes of value for each party. That is, while partners must share a purpose or vision, their respective expected outcomes from the collaboration may be very different.

The example my colleagues used is the partnership between Starbucks and Barnes and Noble. Consistent with its mission to “inspire the human spirit one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time,” Starbucks’ goal is to sell lots of coffee. To achieve its mission of operating the best specialty retail (bookseller) business in America, Barnes and Noble’s goal is to sell lots of books. By creating a partnership for the shared purpose of enhancing customers’ shopping experience, both companies increased their sales when Starbucks started selling its coffee in Barnes and Noble book stores. Because each company brings something to the table that the other doesn’t have, they are able to provide greater value than either one can offer on its own.

Think about some of the partnerships in which organizations engage. Although partners share a common purpose, their respective goals, as well as the roles they play in achieving that purpose, are different. Here are likely goals of some common partnerships:

Public agency and university faculty collaborate on a research project
Shared purpose: reduce homelessness in the community
Agency’s goal: serve its clients more effectively
Faculty members’ goal: obtain data that can be used to publish scholarly papers

University and corporation create a center for technology on campus
Shared purpose: enhance the community’s economic well-being
University’s goal: provide a quality educational experience
Corporation’s goal: develop a local, well-trained labor pool

Non-profit organization and corporation co-host a 5-K run in the community
Shared purpose: improve the community’s health and well-being
Non-profit’s goal: raise money for cancer research
Corporation’s goal: create a sense of camaraderie among employees
Corporation and celebrity promote a new product
Purpose: offer a product that will make people’s lives easier
Corporation: sell the product
Celebrity’s goal: positive exposure, perhaps increased status

Here are five ways to set your organization’s partnerships up for success:

  1. Identify a clear common purpose or vision
  2. Specify your respective roles and stick to them
  3. Recognize and accept that your partners’ desired goals are different
  4. Ensure your expectations of your partners are realistic and aligned with the purpose
  5. Use your shared purpose as the touchstone for your respective actions and decisions

The bottom line: a partnership can be more effective and rewarding for both parties if you remember that there are different, legitimate routes to the same destination.

To find articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at and my blog at

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© 2015 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

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