Making Partnerships Work


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Power of 2

How to Make the Most of Your Partnerships at Work and in Life


Rodd Wagner and Gale Muller

Gallup Press, 2009, 238 pp.   ISBN 978-1-59562-029-3

What makes a partnership succeed? The authors blend key insights, field discoveries, and inspiring stories to illustrate eight elements that prepare partners to succeed. Rodd Wagner is a New York Times bestselling author and a principal of Gallup. Gale Muller is a vice chairman and general manager of the Gallup World Poll.


Introduction: Made for Collaborating

Powerful partnerships are deeply elusive. People today are often crowded but lonely. They’re wired and networked but not collaborating. “We no longer tell real stories around the fire; we turn on the TV and watch familiar strangers pretend.” (3) “We are collaborative creatures in a newly do-it-yourself world.” (4)


“Consequently, the more good partnerships you have in your life, the more likely you are to say that you experienced the feeling of enjoyment much of the day yesterday, that you recently learned something interesting, and that you’ve been doing a lot of smiling and laughing — all key measures of your happiness. Even having one strong partnership markedly increases your well-being over those who have none.” (4)


“Great partnerships don’t just happen.” (7) All successful partnerships share some crucial ingredients: complementary strengths, a common mission, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communicating, and unselfishness. “Some researchers call it ’mutuality’ when the natural concern for your own welfare transforms into gratification in seeing your comrade succeed. Those who have reached this level say such collaborations become among the most fulfilling aspects of their lives.” (10)


1. Complementary Strengths

“The best happens when you and someone who has strengths that complement yours join forces and focus on a single goal. … You accomplish together what could not be done separately.” (12) You should be able to name the qualities you bring and those your counterpart brings. In a strong partnership each individual constantly speaks of “we” rather than “I.”


There is a pernicious fiction that anyone can accomplish anything alone with enough determination and perseverance. The pressure to be all things is pervasive. But most people see themselves as more well-rounded than they really are. “Great partners know where they are strong and where they are weak.” (25) Together Eisner and Wells led Disney to its heights but when Wells died and Eisner continued alone, his weaknesses took Disney to new lows.


2. A Common Mission

“A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.” (35, quoting John D. Rockefeller)


“A common mission is the foundation for all partnerships.” (36) “Collaboration is more than friendship or collegiality…. It occurs only when you and an ally strive for a definitive accomplishment — passing work between yourselves, ’putting your heads together,’ or doubling up on a task neither of you could accomplish alone. For this reason, the relationship is unique. It exists to serve the goal. It lasts only until the mission is accomplished. Once the objective is reached, the partnership must adopt a new goal or it dissolves.” “Coauthors are partners until their book is finished.” (37)


The lack of a basic concurrence is when many pairs fail. When limits of time or money force difficult decisions, conflicting priorities become clear.


“Your primary qualification to participate in a partnership is your ability to help fulfill the mission the two of you share.” (38) “Without a shared mission, partnerships inevitably break into two individual pursuits.” (39) While motivations may not be the same, the objective is one, and good partners often understand why it is meaningful to the other.


In mountain climbing, when two men are on the same rope they are together. They help each other all the way up and all the way down. They are not ’leader’ and ’led’ but partners. “A canoe cannot be paddled in two directions.” (48)


3. Fairness

“…feelings of being used are often at the heart of what destroys a working relationship.” (58) “The emotional reactions of collaborators drive them toward interacting fairly or not interacting at all.” (61)


“During World War II, Hewlett, already a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, was called back into active service. He was absent from the company for nearly five years. Packard decreased his own compensation to match that of Hewlett’s military pay. ’I did not think it was fair for my salary to be higher than Bill’s army salary,’ Packard concluded. Not only was it a substantial sacrifice, it was perfectly symbolic.” (65)  


Most people over estimate the value of their own contributions and underestimate how much work their partner does.  


4. Trust

“Every partner takes a risk that the other person might fail….” (77) In a good working partnership, we trust each other. We count on each other to do what he says. And we tell others how good he or she is. Don’t partner if you don’t believe the partner is trustworthy.


Being trustworthy is showing up on time, doing more than your share of the work, communicating promptly, giving all your creativity, jumping in without being asked, fighting for success of the project, working hard on big jobs and small ones, and many other things.


In general people are reciprocating, both positively and negatively, reflecting what they receive. This reciprocity is a powerful force in human nature. (94) “The most important element in forming and maintaining a variety of strong partnerships is … your willingness to take the risk of trusting numerous potential partners and your diligence in repaying the trust they place in you. …you need to be eager to cooperate; to make early, friendly overtures to your partner; to stubbornly refuse to make the first hostile or neglectful move; and to be quite willing to forgive.” (94-5)


“Your first moves, friendly or hostile, tip the balance for future interactions. When you exhibit trust, you will most often find trustworthiness. When you are selfish, you will most often find selfishness.” (95)


5. Acceptance

“You form partnerships fastest and easiest with people most like yourself. Deep-seated biases make you more trusting of those who look most like you, who think like you, or with whom you have the most in common….” (97)


Social distance often has more consequences for collaboration than physical distance. Keys: Focus on each other’s strengths. Accept others as they are instead of trying to change them. Be understanding of mistakes.


Mutual irritation is common in partnerships. Egocentrism means that you are normal but the other person is a bit strange. We are blind hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another and not noticing the contradiction while, at the same time, we have a finely honed sense of spotting it others. “Egocentrism kills partnerships.” “Partnerships require both people to accommodate each other’s foibles.” (101) “To the degree that you insist on taking the negative view of your collaborator’s personality, you will destroy the partnership.” (103)


“One of the greatest challenges of any partnership is learning how to work in close quarters with another over-assuming, fallible, emotionally driven, partially informed, idiosyncratic being moving up and down on the tides of life just like you. The most successful partners come to accept the rough edges of their colleagues.” (110)


“Be careful about making your list of unacceptable traits too long. As the inventory of behaviors you won’t tolerate grows, it begins to say less about the frustrating counterparts with whom you’ve been paired and more about you being a difficult partner.” (111)


“The best way to deal with a frustrating situation is called ’active acceptance,’ neither denying the situation nor surrendering to it. Active acceptance means acknowledging a negative, difficult situation and dealing with it in a constructive way…. It is epitomized by focusing on your partner’s strengths rather than her weaknesses, accepting her as she is, and being understanding when she errs.” (113)


6. Forgiveness

When things turn negative, partners see themselves as pursuing opposing ends. Fairness becomes more about what your partner owes you. Personal ticks become character flaws. The same emotional wiring that makes partnerships effective and rewarding can become powerful negative forces when things go wrong. Both parties use different arithmetic to calculate the balance. Retaliation is deadly.


The offender must apologize. “Make your good intentions clear. Make a peace offering. Be demonstrably more reliable to rebuild trust.” If you feel betrayed, “you need a tremendous amount of discernment, self-control, ability to give your counterpart the benefit of the doubt, and desire for a better outcome to turn a vicious circle into a virtuous one. How you manage your own thinking is as important as the offense itself. In many cases, whether a person forgives the misdeed says less about the seriousness of the wrong than the personality of the partner whose trust was abused.” (123)


Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire — it only feeds the flame. “By fueling aggressive thoughts and feelings, venting also increases aggressive responding.” (125) The more one entertains the anger or recalls the bad event, the less likely it is to be resolved, and therefore the less likely the partnership will survive the rift.” (126)


“The most constructive strategies require you to find a middle ground between being aloof and submersing yourself in the emotions….” Find the positive in it. It takes a rare level of maturity and self-awareness to let the trespass pass.


7. Communicating

“The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate.” (133, quoting Joseph Priestley)


“Silence can breed misunderstandings.” (136) Failing to communicate creates a threat in your partner’s mind. “Every time two counterparts talk, their relationship changes. What goes on beneath the surface is more important than the information exchanged.” (136) Good partners rarely misunderstand each other and listen well to each other.


The communication is as much collaboration as the hands-on work. In your best discussions, you are unconsciously communicating that you can be counted on and that you will look out for the other person.


Do you have a policy of checking with each other before you do something big? “Assuming without verifying is dangerous. We are not mind readers; we are mind guessers. Sometimes we guess wrong.” (143)


The puzzle of determining the structure of DNA required a tremendous amount of conjecture. The ability to bounce ideas off each other proved the principal strength of the collaboration between Crick and Watson. They weren’t the least bit afraid of being candid with one another. (147)  


8. Unselfishness

Three key statements about unselfishness:

  • “We take as much satisfaction at seeing the other succeed as we do from our own success.
  • My partner will risk a lot of me, and I will do the same for him or her.
  • My partner is like a brother or a sister to me.” (158)

“Self-sacrifice does not follow the rules of evolutionary biology….” “Feelings of moral obligation come naturally to people. …we have an incredible capacity for reverence for unselfishness. … Our species is apparently the only one with a genetic makeup that promotes selflessness and true altruistic behavior.” (160, quoting Fehr and Renninger) [Hmmm… dlm]


“Unselfishness changes everything about collaboration.” (161)


In Closing – Looking Within

“Being a great partner is hard work.” (171)


“Collaborating well demands a degree of accommodation and humility rarely needed otherwise. It can require exceptional diplomatic abilities, awareness, countering your natural biases, and the flexibility to incorporate another strong ego into the demands of your own. Occasionally, it requires great self-control and forgiveness. In all cases, it demands an intense desire to achieve the mutual goal that overcomes what Tenzing Norgay called the ’small bickering and resentments,’ the ’molehills’ that interfere with scaling the mountain.” (172)


“If you want to have great partnerships, be a great partner. Get beyond yourself. Give up the notion that you are well-rounded, and stop expecting your colleagues to be universally proficient. Incorporate someone else’s motivations into your view of the accomplishment. Loosen up. Put aside your competitive nature, your prepackaged view of how the thing should be done, and your desire not to be inconvenienced with the imperfections of a fellow human being. Focus more on what you do for the partnership than what you get from it. Demonstrate trust in more people, and see if they don’t surprise you with their trustworthiness. Be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. And along the way, communicate continuously.” (172)


Additional Insights for Business People



For Managers: A Boss or a Partner?

Many collaborative opportunities arise when one person has power over the other. The majority of managers claim they are more a partner than boss, but most of their subordinates think otherwise. The same attributes that make a good partnership between equals make a good alliance between managers and employees. Employees may lack official authority, but their informal power is substantial.


People mirror what they perceive coming from the other person. People return what they think they are getting. Reciprocity is more powerful than rationality.


For Leaders: Creating Collaborative Organizations

More than half of all mergers, acquisitions, strategic alliances and other ways of bringing two organizations together fail. More often than not, the two firms fail to integrate and realize the promised synergy. The process of combining is costly, complex, and time-consuming. Leaders usually fail to realize the complexities. “There is a reason parts of a company are called divisions. Most often, they are divided from the rest of the organization, pursuing their own ends, suspicious of those outside their fold.”


“A collaborative organization is like a zipper. To work, both sides must be firmly fastened together from top to bottom. Individual partnerships between people from each entity are like the interlocking teeth of the zipper that hold it together. When teeth are separated or missing, it threatens the entire bond between the two sides.” (189-90)


“One of the most common fatal flaws in creating a collaborative organization is failing to pursue a common mission, a goal premised on an agreement that both camps will succeed together.” (190)


“A collaboration between entities is nothing more than the sum of the individual partnerships between the two enterprises. Unless an organization’s leaders attend to the details of those working relationships, the merger, the alliance, the joint marketing agreement, or whatever it’s called, will certainly fail.” (192)


“No leader who struggles to collaborate should expect his or her subordinate leaders or departments to do so.” (193) Powerful examples among the leaders are absolutely necessary. Partnerships begin at the top. And partnership must be built throughout. (194)



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