A partnership is an arrangement where parties, known as partners, agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. The partners in a partnership may be individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments or combinations. Organizations may partner to increase the likelihood of each achieving their mission and to amplify their reach. A partnership may result in issuing and holding equity or may be only governed by a contract.
Partnerships have a long history; they were already in use in Medieval times in Europe and in the Middle East. In Europe, the partnerships contributed to the Commercial Revolution which started in the 13th century. In the 15th century the cities of the Hanseatic League, would mutually strengthen each other; a ship from Hamburg to Danzig would not only carry its own cargo but was also commissioned to transport freight for other members of the league. This practice not only saved time and money, but also constituted a first step toward partnership. This capacity to join forces in reciprocal services became a distinctive feature, and a long lasting success factor, of the Hanseatic team spirit.
A close examination of Medieval trade in Europe shows that numerous significant credit based trades were not bearing interest. Hence, pragmatism and common sense called for a fair compensation for the risk of lending money, and a compensation for the opportunity cost of lending money without using it for other fruitful purposes. In order to circumvent the usury laws edicted by the Church, other forms of reward were created, in particular through the widespread form of partnership called commenda, very popular with Italian merchant bankers. Florentine merchant banks were almost sure to make a positive return on their loans, but this would be before taking into account solvency risks.
In the Middle East, the Qirad and Mudarabas institutions developed when trade with the Levant, namely the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim Near East, flourished and when early trading companies, contracts, bills of exchange and long-distance international trade were established. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Levant trade revived in the tenth to eleventh centuries in Byzantine Italy. The eastern and western Mediterranean formed part of a single commercial civilization in the Middle Ages, and the two regions were economically interdependent through trade (in varying degrees).
Partnerships present the involved parties with complex negotiation and special challenges that must be navigated unto agreement. Overarching goals, levels of give-and-take, areas of responsibility, lines of authority and succession, how success is evaluated and distributed, and often a variety of other factors must all be negotiated. Once agreement is reached, the partnership is typically enforceable by civil law, especially if well documented. Partners who wish to make their agreement affirmatively explicit and enforceable typically draw up Articles of Partnership. Trust and pragmatism are also essential as it cannot be expected that everything can be written in the initial partnership agreement, therefore quality governance[8] and clear communication are critical success factors in the long run. It is common for information about formally partnered entities to be made public, such as through a press release, a newspaper ad, or public records laws.
While industrial partnerships stand to amplify mutual interests and accelerate success, some forms of collaboration may be considered ethically problematic. When a politician, for example, partners with a corporation to advance the latter's interest in exchange for some benefit, a conflict of interest results; consequentially, the public good may suffer. While technically lawful in some jurisdictions, such practice is broadly viewed negatively or as corruption.