Though far from an exhaustive list, the word Partner can be used to describe a relationship between spouses, significant others, parents, friends, teammates, businesses, governmental organizations, or nations. The word speaks to an alliance where two or more partners agree to cooperate in order to advance mutual interests. Those interests may not always be 100% aligned all of the time, but they must be aligned enough to make the partnership worthy of the investment made by all. Sometimes partnerships are documented in a contract that clearly defines the expectations of all involved, sometimes they happen so naturally that documenting the relationship on paper undermines the inferred strength of the partnership.

When I think of the many partnerships in which I am a participant, there is a set of three criteria that I use to measure the strength and importance of each:

  • Shared Values
  • Complementary Skills
  • Shared Vision

Whether it is my marriage, my friends, my coworkers, or business-oriented partnerships, those three things are critical to the success of the partnership. Any and all relationships are founded on shared values. It is extremely difficult to have a meaningful partnership if you don’t value the same things. That said, I have seen partners who are able to overlook a lack of shared values because they rely on the strong set of complementary skills and are so committed to a shared vision (sometimes on a very specific and temporary issue).

Though it may seem contrary on the surface, I don’t seek out partnerships with people who have shared strengths.  Instead, I look to partner with people who are good at things that I am not. Their unique skill-sets are what make them of most value. Think about any team of which you have been a part and I think you will agree the strongest teams were comprised of people who had complementary skill-sets amongst them. I have many examples at both work and at home, but my favorite is my wife. She is great at things I am not, and my strengths are in areas where hers are not. We don’t spend time trying to duplicate each other’s strengths, but we do our best to play to them. Same is true at work. One of the first things I do when I join a new team is publicly acknowledge my shortcomings. I do that so those who are strong in areas where I am not can step up and help compensate. After all, a team is made up of individuals who are interdependent upon each other. If all are self-sufficient and share the same strengths, we probably don’t need that partnership.

There are few things as binding as a shared vision of the future. We all have a vision of our individual future, but finding others who either share the very same vision or are so committed to helping you realize your vision that they make it part of theirs is powerful.  More than powerful, it’s the very reason for partnering in the first place. A shared vision is the reason we know anything about Apple, Google, the Wright Brothers, NATO, the United Nations, and (insert spouse or significant other’s name). My hope is that you and your employer share a vision, if not it’s merely a paycheck, which is a rather hollow way to spend your days. I also hope that you and your spouse (or significant other) are committed to realizing a shared vision, otherwise the road ahead will be filled with turbulence.

Partners don’t always agree, but they speak up when they don’t; partners don’t always want the same thing, but they are willing to sacrifice so the other might achieve something of critical importance to them; partners don’t waste time duplicating strengths, but they spend a great deal of time finding ways to complement them.

  • What partnerships do you value most?
  • How do you measure the value of those partnerships?
  • What do you value most amongst your partners?