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 havent been
designed and theyre 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:
- What does our venture
or partnership need from us here?
- What do we need from
each other? And what can each of us contribute?
- 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,
- What is the outcome
we are hoping for?
- 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 partners
requests. This means that if youre a yes,
you say yes. If youre a no, you
say no. If youre a maybe, you
say no or counteroffer with what youre
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 doesnt
find your behavior supportive, ask him to show you what
supportive looks like to him. Its 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
partnershipone that happens by design, not
This really works
except when it doesnt.
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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