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  Monthly Newsletter - December 2004

Designing your Partnership

Imagine living in a house that has no design to it. It would probably be a house with lots of underutilized spaces and little aesthetic value. Metaphorically speaking, most partners live in a house like that. Their partnerships haven’t been designed and they’re being underutilized. Perhaps they have a partnership agreement, which would be an equivalent to the structural design of the house, but they have done little in designing how the rooms fit inside it and what fits inside each room. By luck or accident, their partnership (or house) might even work great; but design would make it even better.

A designed partnership may mean something as simple as discussing before an event what partners are counting on from each other and the outcome that they are expecting. With this, there is a much higher chance of partnership alignment and a much smaller chance of mutual disappointment. It is as simple and as powerful as that.

The following steps will give you an idea of what robust partnership design entails:

Step 1: Choose a specific event or situation that you want to design around. For example, a client meeting, a company expansion, the holiday season, etc. You may also choose a general recurring situation, like success, conflict, disappointment, etc.

Step 2: With curiosity and openness, have the following conversation with your partner:

  1. What does our venture or partnership need from us here?
  2. What do we need from each other? And what can each of us contribute?
  3. What is the space (atmosphere) we want to create around this? How do we want to be together in this (supportive, vulnerable, serious, playful, disciplined, flexible, etc.)?
  4. What is the outcome we are hoping for?
  5. What can we count on from each other?


Step 3:
Become clear about everything you want or expect, and make the necessary requests from each other, fully knowing that not all your requests may be accepted. An example: “Will you remain supportive even if I make a blooper in the middle of the presentation?”

Step 4: Respond with a “yes”, “no”, or a “counteroffer” to your partner’s requests. This means that if you’re a yes, you say “yes”. If you’re a no, you say “no”. If you’re a maybe, you say “no” or counteroffer with what you’re fully able to agree to.

Step 5: Have some fun behaviorally rehearsing your agreements. Take as an example agreeing to be supportive if your partner makes a blooper. You would ask your partner to actually practice making a blooper, and then you would act out being supportive. If your partner doesn’t find your behavior supportive, ask him to show you what supportive looks like to him. It’s important that he actually shows you rather than tells you what supportive would look like and then you practice it.

Step 6: Discuss how you will keep this design alive and remember it when you most need it. Agree on how you will respond if the requests are not being followed through. Re-design as needed.

Let these steps not give you the impression that designing your partnership is about following a rigid process or becoming less spontaneous. In fact, I challenge you to design your partnership to be more flexible and spontaneous than it is now. While following all the steps in a formal way will give you a more robust alliance design, let them also serve you as guidelines that you can follow in an informal conversation.

The gist of designing your partnership (and something that makes it different from simply planning an event for example) is that you will be discussing not only what you will do, but also the attitudes and intentions that you will hold. This is at the base of creating an intentional partnership—one that happens by design, not accident.

This really works… except when it doesn’t. Sometimes you and/or your partner will get emotionally triggered and be unable to perform what the two of you had designed. This is similar to an earthquake hitting as you were putting together the house we spoke of at the beginning. No matter what amount of design you had put into it, it would shake a few things up. You just have to wait until it passes to start putting things back where you want them.

If you want more help in designing your alliances (or would like to reduce the strength of those earthquakes), please contact me about a sample partnership session.

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