Jun 122013

Some of the greatest part­ner­ships have been between people who didn’t get along par­tic­u­larly well…you know, the Len­non and McCart­ney factor. Maybe it’s just that human beings often rub each other up the wrong way when work­ing closely together over the long term. Or per­haps oppos­ing per­son­al­it­ies make for the most com­pel­ling and pro­found creations.

But achieve­ment is soured if it’s coupled with someone you dis­like — or rather, someone you can’t get along with. So how can we improve our chances of hav­ing effect­ive part­ner­ships — ones that not only bring suc­cess in busi­ness terms, but also con­trib­ute, or at least don’t dimin­ish our per­sonal well-being?

Respect each other

Recog­nising dif­fer­ences and lim­it­a­tions, while genu­inely valu­ing what the other has to bring, removes the frus­tra­tion that comes from hav­ing unreal­istic expect­a­tions. Often the other partner’s world view, which you may not agree with, is exactly what the col­lab­or­a­tion needs. In the uber-successful team of War­ren Buf­fet and Charlie Mun­ger, the lat­ter looks at every busi­ness deal skep­tic­ally, while Buf­fett takes the oppos­ite stance. In the pro­cess of try­ing to con­vince his part­ner to say yes, together they come to the best con­clu­sions. But this dif­fer­ence is har­mo­ni­ous and respect­ful. “We have prac­tic­ally no dis­agree­ments. That’s just the way the chem­istry has worked,” says Mun­ger.

dancing / partnership

Be polite

Gen­eral cour­tesy, under­stand­ing your partner’s pre­ferred ways of work­ing, keep­ing to agree­ments — these empathic approaches provide a secure found­a­tion. Steve Wozniak said of his rela­tion­ship with Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder and an entirely dif­fer­ent per­son­al­ity type to Wozniak), “we are friends and polite  … we’ve never had an argument.”

Shared val­ues and vision

After the hon­ey­moon is when true col­ours appear, so take your time before com­mit­ting. Often part­ner­ships are formed with someone you’ve got to know quite well — you may like them and get on fine, but check you haven’t got on rose-tinted glasses by doing due dili­gence. You want to base your decision on reason as well as emo­tional con­nec­tion, and you want to ensure that you’re on the same wavelength when it comes to basic val­ues. If you really want to cut to the chase, spend some intens­ive time together. Fol­low­ing gradu­ation, friends Bill Hew­lett and Dave Pack­ard went on a two-week camp­ing trip; they enjoyed it enough to go on to form HP.


Some people like a lot of up close and per­sonal inter­ac­tion; oth­ers are more private. When he star­ted at Dis­ney, Michael Eis­ner real­ised he was expec­ted to work lit­er­ally along­side pres­id­ent Frank Wells, but “the whole idea made me uncom­fort­able. I need my pri­vacy.” He made his pref­er­ence clear, and they spent the next dec­ade work­ing suc­cess­fully in sep­ar­ate offices, while com­ing in and out of them 10 times a day.

Keep a sense of humour

Things will go wrong, that’s guar­an­teed. And keep­ing a sense of humour rather than indul­ging in une­ces­sary, destruct­ive drama is a real bene­fit. Per­haps humour was at the heart of one of the most endur­ing and aim­able col­lab­or­a­tions, the Two Ron­nies.


It does take two to tango…but only one to mess it up! So save your­self a lot of bruises, blisters and bunions…get your own foot­work right, and make sure that your part­ner is in step with you before you start the dance.


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