Choosing the
Right Partnership for
the Right Reasons
for the right reasons and in the right circum-
stances, partnering is an effective way for individ-
uals with similar business interests to combine
their strengths or for two (or more) organizations
to gain a mutual competitive advantage. But it’s
not always appropriate, and not all kinds of part-
nerships work for all individuals or businesses.
Just as couples sometimes marry for the
wrong reasons, businesses sometimes partner for
the wrong purposes. Unwary business leaders,
units, and organizations stumble into the pitfalls
of partnership when a more conventional path
might have been an easier and more direct route
to success. Before you decide to take the partner-
ing route, first determine whether it will take
you where you want to go.
Focus on Form
and Fit
There are two main factors to
consider when contemplating any partnership arrangement: the
overarching purpose of the partnership (What dance shall we
dance?) and the personal and commercial compatibility of the
partners (With whom shall we dance?). You can pick a dance
and a dance partner at random and head toward the bandstand
just for the sake of dancing, but you’re not likely to gain much
satisfaction from such a haphazard enterprise. Instead of gliding
across the floor, you’ll stumble over each other’s feet.
Tapping the Source
Dancing, as Zorba could tell you, is a way of expressing a deep,
essential purpose. This is true not only in life but in business as
well. The dance of business partnership must be committed to
some clear, central purpose that can best be expressed through
partnering. All business partnerships, of course, are grounded in
some commercial purpose, but they rise to greatness only if a
relationship objective is also served.
Dancers know that great dancing begins deep inside—you
just “gotta dance.” In a business partnership, it’s the core pur-
pose that matters, not the process. It’s this inner source of crea -
tive energy, the clear, common purpose, that gives a partnership
the fire and commitment it needs to achieve success—that and
being emotionally ready for the rigors of partnering.
Finding a Good Fit
Partners who indulge in partnering for its own sake—because
it’s “hot”—often find themselves dancing with different part-
ners long before the music stops. When accounting firm Price
Waterhouse was considering a merger with competitor
Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, the firms’ partners in the U.S.
approved the merger with little hesitation. However, the part-
ners in both companies’ European offices, where the cultural
differences were much greater, axed the deal. Today, Deloitte
Touche is the product of a successful merger, but the strains
between the dissimilar cultures of Deloitte, Haskins and Sells
and Touche Ross still show. Merging their client records
and real estate proved far easier than getting this odd couple
to dance.
Partnerships succeed when partnership is the right rela-
tionship for the partners; they also win because the partners are
right for the relationship. The key to making a partner-
ship great is to ensure first that it is grounded on the proper
Are You Ready for
Anumber of years ago some
ministers gave couples contemplating matrimony a pamphlet
entitled “Are You Ready to Be Married?” The tract was not
about how to make a great marriage; it was a self-evaluation
focusing on what it takes to be a good marriage partner. Good
business marriages begin with good (but by no means perfect)
partners—and partners who want to make it work have certain
distinctive characteristics.
The questions in our Self-Test for Focusing are designed
to help you look inside yourself to assess whether partnership is
the right “dance” for you. They are weighted toward the per-
sonal, rather than legal, structural, or economic factors (but
remember that in this kind of partnership, “you” includes your
organization). If you’re already in a partnership, they can be
used as a status check—as part of a periodic partnership evalua-
tion to see how you’re doing and what needs changing.
Dance, even when
dressed in its richest
costumes and most
sophisticated techniques,
never loses its connection
with gut reality.
—F. Borrows,
History of Ballroom

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