Have you ever sat down to write an article or prepare a presentation on a subject you thought was going to be a snap only to discover more complexity than you first suspected? This happened to me recently while I was preparing my presentation on partnerships for my first conference appearance of 2013.
What I discovered in my reflection on the subject is that partnership is a simple word that actually represents a very complex relationship between two or more people. Successful partnerships are based in common intellectual and emotional understanding and require that all partners can work with other partners’ value assumptions.
What is a partnership?
It is an arrangement (formal or informal) where people agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests. What we have all come to expect from partnerships is like minded individuals working together to achieve a common goal – whether that is creating a product, playing a game, or raising a family.
Partnership is based on the concept that together we can accomplish something that neither of us can accomplish as well on our own – and that both of us will benefit from the partnership’s success. They are the way to leverage our own strengths and the strengths of our partners to achieve great things.
When you are a partner, the implication is you do not act alone and your actions reflect the interests of both you and your partner. You collaborate and cooperate and support each other.
This intellectual understanding is the “high common ground”. Shared commitment to accomplishing something and shared understanding of the concept of partnership – working together to achieve something with mutual benefit. This is the place all partnerships begin. Without a shared goal and a belief in mutual benefit, a partnership never gets off the ground.
Sounds simple, but many partnerships fail because having a common intellectual understanding is not enough. Partnerships exist between individuals, businesses, organizations, even governments, but at the core of every partnership are two or more people, no matter what the organizational structures or labels. Where there are people there are emotions.
Emotional Understanding and Value Assumptions
The emotional understanding is the basis of unspoken expectations. No one builds a partnership with a stranger; there has to be some common element that brings potential partners together. Maybe we are friends, or we both belong to the same networking group, or we both are in a dance class, or we attend the same church, or we are in the same business, or we meet at a conference.
Whatever the connection, there is always some starting point of commonality. Interestingly, this starting point creates for us unspoken expectations that always involve the following assumptions (in no particular order):
- A common goal
- Shared personal values (ethics)
- Mutual advantage
- Complimentary skills
- Shared responsibilities
- Support for each other
While the assumptions are common to everyone, the order of their importance is quite often different for each partner (Perceptual Style plays a part in this) and that creates minefields that threaten the success of every partnership.
While one can argue that all of these assumptions are important to a successful partnership, the reality is people value them differently. I may be content to take on more responsibility than my partner, but breach of loyalty is a deal breaker. You may be comfortable that you see long term advantage where your partner sees short term advantage, but lack of support on a decision is unacceptable. For the two of us to have a successful partnership, we must understand each other’s priorities and do our best to honor them.
Successful partnerships bridge intellectual and emotional understanding and openly address value assumptions. Without these three in harmony no partnership can last.
As a partner, what assumptions about partnerships have you had? Or do you have a question on the topic? Leave your comments below.
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