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.
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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