Friday, December 17, 2010



The aim of this paper is to stimulate and add to the thinking of people who seek value to be achieved through understanding and establishing partnerships.

We begin by proposing an operational definition of partnership;

“Partnership is a relationship between two parties that is important and consequential to both and is characterized by sharing, close cooperation, mutual influence, and respect and where each invests something of real value with expectation of a positive return.” For purposes of this paper any reference to partnership, partner, or partnering will be with this definition in mind. Other forms of association including legal partnerships are excluded.

The effect of partnership is seen at two levels, synergy and symbiosis;

• Synergy is produced through the interaction of two entities such that their total effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.

• Symbiosis is a state created by two entities living together in a mutually beneficial relationship, characterized by cooperation at the truest level of their individual natures, committed to support the others need for continuing satisfactory existence.

Partnership can be understood by considering what it is not, as well as what it is. Following are a number of “misconceptions” about relationships that lead to misunderstanding and undermining of partnership.


Valuing difference when examined closely and critically carries with it an ego-centric spin, in that it presumes that I evaluate you in the context of how I see myself and make judgments as to where we are different, and presumably where we are alike. Furthermore it presumes that we are able to make an accurate assessment of the qualities that define ourselves as a person and to use that as a reference point for comparison when using the assessment we have made of another person to calculate the difference between us. This process is subject to enormous errors of subjectivity, objectivity and lack of valid data. It biases the labeling of difference toward what can be perceived by the senses, i.e. how someone looks, talks, acts. It sets us up to focus on one another as different, remaining separate at the expense of seeing ourselves as naturally unique, prepared to come together as parts of a whole that is larger than either of us.

Partnering requires that we see and accept one another as distinctively separate and unique beings, and treat diversity as a natural fact of our existence. What we do with that fact is determined by the shared values and the aims of our partnership and is a primary source of synergy and symbiosis.


Partnerships exist only when each party has a clearly defined identity that they are able to maintain as they interact with the other party. Sameness and conformity neutralize the ingredients that give rise to synergy and symbiosis by reducing the range of possibilities available to the partnership as a whole.

Parties to a partnership grow to be able to depend on or count on one another to deliver as promised and expected. When this level of accountability, trust, and confidence, exists as a mutual quality, each party increases the scope of independent action (freedom) available to them, knowing what they can depend on the other for.


This idea is appealing and has been widely accepted as accurate. In fact, when looked at closely, powerful bonds between two parties include the expectation of role related behavior, either as explicitly agreed to or implicitly anticipated. When you state “I’m here for you” it seems to say that your self is available. The other party is therefore entitled to expect that when a specific need arises, you have the will to take on an appropriate role with the capability to perform it. What really counts is that whatever role I play in our partnership, my “self” is fully invested in it.


When this idea is practiced at a literal level it causes parties to focus on one another as the only, or at least primary, element of the partnership, and promotes the idea that the foremost objective of each party is to serve the interests of the other, usually by pleasing them. This view causes the parties to become involved in a process of calling attention to their individual likes and dislikes with obvious intention to shift the balance in favor of likes. As they become more inwardly focused they begin to lose whatever larger purpose their partnership existed to serve, and to lose support from the environment they operate in.

The capability of each party to overcome the grip of ordinary likes and dislikes enables them to better serve the larger purpose for which the partnership exists, and is a reliable measure of the strength and maturity of the partnership. For example, marriage partnerships are more likely to flourish when both parties work in support of shared purpose; raising a family, serving the community, running a business, or providing for the future, vs. “making the other party happy.”


In essence the special power and energy created through teamwork is a product of effective 1:1 partnerships that exist within the domain of the team and the team environment that is characterized by the practice of teamwork. The ultimate in potential for teams is the extent to which all possible 1:1 combinations of team members are able to function as a partnership. Our experience of team development is that it is catalyzed by one or more of these partnerships “coming to life” which supply energy and an initiating spark that support the emergence of still more partnerships.

In summary, we can say that partnerships;

• Operate from common ground of personal values toward shared goals that involve serving a higher purpose,

• Have an objective view of the unique qualities in each party and are able to employ them in support of shared goals.

• Work to build confidence in self and one another and use this to reinforce responsible exercise of increased personal freedom.

• Look for and serve larger arenas (teams, businesses, families, communities) as a way to deliver value from the partnership and to develop it at the same time.

• Increase clarity and strength of self-identity, while simultaneously building good will and positive energy toward interacting with others.

• Are clear in their understanding and description of the individual roles to be played.

• Are grounded in competence of each party to manage their own affairs.

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