"Does the partnership cause the success, or does the success cause the partnership?"
I’m willing to bet that everyone who is reading this summary can think of examples where a good partnership led to resounding and unimagined success. And we probably can cite examples where success has sustained a rather unlikely partnership. It certainly makes for an interesting “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” debate, yet this is not the question Michael Eisner sought to answer when he decided to write Working Together.
As the title suggests, Michael was curious about discovering what makes successful partnerships work. He has had a number of successful partnerships throughout his career, and by far the most successful one was a 10 year partnership with Frank Wells at Disney (1984-1994). He tells us, “I spent more and more time wondering exactly why our partnership worked so well, what had actually made that connection so extraordinarily productive and made us so much more successful than we would have been working alone.”
Working Together explores the nuances of that exhilarating partnership as well as ten other successful business partnerships including: Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger (Berkshire-Hathaway), Ron Howard and Brian Glazer (Imagine Entertainment), Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus (Home Depot), Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (Restaurateurs, Cookbook Authors, TV celebrities). If you are curious about the backstory to these and other larger-than-life partnerships and what they reveal about creating successful alliances, you will enjoy this book.
The Big Idea
There Is No Silver Bullet
"Each of the partnerships profiled in this book illustrates different ways of sharing and different styles of working together. It is hardly as simple as dividing up power, authority, the spotlight, salary, stock options, and success down the middle."
It’s human nature to seek the quick and easy path to success. History is full of stories about people’s quest for the Holy Grail, the search for the fountain of youth, the philosopher’s stone, the proverbial ‘silver bullet’. And while there are common elements that can guide us more surely along the path to success, the reality is we must alter the recipe to suit our own unique strengths, limitations, desires and situations. The same is true for creating winning partnerships.
That said, there are a few ‘ingredients’ that seem to underpin all successful partnerships (or marriages or friendships…). Consider how well you are executing the following behaviours in your current partnerships and talk about ways you can strengthen these elements. Or, if you are about to embark on a new partnership, use these touchstones as a guide for establishing a strong foundation upon which to grow.
- United We Stand – Do we have each other’s backs? Are we on the same page? Are we working in the best interests of the organization?
- Unfailing Belief/Trust – In the other person, in the vision, in the process.
- Shared Values – A strong moral/ethical code.
- No Secrets – Candid opinions on issues, no side deals, regular and honest communication.
- A Sense of Selflessness – The willingness to ‘check one’s ego at the door’.
Eisner puts it this way, “A quality partnership also allows you to recognize your own weaknesses, and draw on a partner’s strengths without being uncomfortable about the vulnerability.”
Two Heads are Better than One!
"Two minds, two endurances, two personalities, tied to a common cause works."
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve either heard or used the phrase “two heads are better than one” I’d likely be writing this from an idyllic island retreat instead of my home office in southern Ontario! We know the adage is grounded in truth and we likely have benefitted from implementing it in myriad ways in our business and personal lives. And yet, it is generally not our dominant modus operandi when it comes to getting things done.
As Eisner points out, society has had a long-held fascination with solitary “heroes” who rise out of nothingness and achieve the impossible; a myth he believes has been promoted disproportionately in the media. This has created a false perception that if we work hard enough, we can become the next Steve Jobs, Jack Welch or J.P. Morgan. So for most of us, the idea of searching for someone to work hand-in-hand with us to achieve our aspirations runs counter to the way we have been taught to pursue and achieve success.
As a self-employed consultant and trainer, I live this on a daily basis. And while I do collaborate with colleagues on the occasional project and benefit from that immensely, I have not (yet) applied the partnership principle to the running of my business writ large. I probably need to explore what’s preventing me from moving in that direction more deeply and nudge myself to create opportunities to ‘partner up’ with others more often.
I would encourage you to do the same. What are you currently working on that could benefit from the skills, talents or perspectives of someone else? How might you create a partnership that leverages your strengths and counter-balances your weaknesses? A wise individual once said to me, “You may need to do this yourself, however you don’t need to do it alone.” Challenge your assumptions and your ‘regular’ way of doing things. See if you can find one small task or project where you can bring in a ‘partner’ and benefit from that second ‘head’.
Don’t Stop Looking!
"Partnerships all made these people happy, and happier than they would have been had they worked for their success alone. They had someone else with whom to experience the challenging lows and the ecstatic highs; another person in the trenches, another person to pop the champagne."
Wow! Who here doesn’t want to be happier in their work and personal lives? Who would prefer to organize a party for one (be it of a celebratory nature or a pity party)? Who wants to work harder alone rather than alongside others who share your dreams and aspirations? I truly hope no hands were raised to these rhetorical questions!
And yet, finding the right partner for our various dreams and aspirations is itself hard work. Through trial and error I did find my life partner. I have not yet experienced the same success in a business context. Sure, there are people I like to call on to collaborate on small projects which is definitely a win-win. But those are small ‘p’ partnerships and Working Together has inspired me to seek a bigger ‘P’ partnership. So I’ll keep looking and experimenting, because, according to everyone who has been in a successful partnership, “Working together is much better than working…alone.”
Ok…so while the book did not provide us with the definitive “Top Ten” list of factors or qualities that ensure partnership success, I’m going to ask you to help me build one. When you think of the successful partnerships you’ve had, what is the one thing you have looked for or valued the most in those relationships? What do you think the ‘secret’ to your partnership success has been?