Blocking Out
Your Performance
dancers to try out their moves. First, the rules are
discussed; everyone gets a chance to review them
and suggest changes before they are finished.
Once everyone agrees and understands, the
dancers begin moving about according to these
rules. As the moves grow more and more familiar
and instinctive, the creative instinct takes over,
and the dance takes wings.
Partnership Protocols:
The Bedrock Basics
All performances are based
on a set of protocols—the principles, truths, conventions, and
rules honored by those who engage in the effort. In poker,
everyone agrees that a full house is a pair plus three of a kind.
Writers in the English language accept that “alphabetical
order” means A, followed by B, followed by C, and so forth.
Basketball players never argue about how many points they get
for a free throw from the foul line.
In dance, the mechanics of how and where on the stage the
dancers will perform is known as blocking. Dancers walk
through the steps so each gets a clear picture of his or her rela-
tionship to the other dancers, the props, and the score. Blocking
is not concerned with mood or expression; it’s about basic
moves and familiarity with the environment.
Setting up the protocols for a partnership is like blocking
a dance. Wise partners ensure that they share the same picture
of their operating rules and environment—where each will go,
what each will do, how much of the stage the joint effort will
cover. Partnership protocols are the mutually agreeable
absolutes that serve as a foundation for trust, confidence, and
As we described in lesson 1, when we studied the tran-
scripts of our interviews with people who have experienced
great partnerships, we were intrigued by the similar “truths”
they described. The more we probed, the more we realized
there was a universal set of six bedrock basics. Honoring these
truths ensures longevity and productivity; ignoring them risks
the demise of the partnership. We discovered that, although
the performance goals of a partnership may be unique and the
agreements customized, the “etiquette” of great partnerships
never changed.
We are constantly
asking ourselves, ‘Are
we doing business at the
level we want to? Are we
worthy of this partner-
ship?’ And we want part-
nerships with people who
ask themselves those
same questions.
—Terry McElroy,
McLane Company
We challenge you to examine the greatest, longest-lasting
partnerships you’ve enjoyed. We believe you’ll find that they
are based on the following six principles, honored willingly and
confidently by all partners.
Expect the Best
This principle sounds like one of those overworked truisms
used to whip up morale in faltering organizations—but it has
many meanings. Among them are that great partners go into
relationships with expectations. They don’t go into a partner-
ship with a “What the heck, let’s see what happens” attitude.
Great partners are rarely people who are habitually suspi-
cious or pessimistic. Nor are they naive about the failings of
others. Instead, they are both optimistic and pragmatic. They
go forward with confidence and trust, expecting others to deal
honorably with them and put forth their best effort. They have
a clear idea of what the relationship ought to be like, they let
their partners know their expectations, and they stay alert to
problems. They also know that defects can be repaired by the
force of their will and the power of the relationship.
Great partners know that they are not perfect, nor do
they expect anyone else to be perfect. But they have faith that
they can become better and that their partners and others they
deal with share their desire. Belief becomes truth because the
energy of the partnership wills it. While hope springs eternal in
life, it leaps barriers and vaults doubt in great partnerships.
Be All, There
We asked a wise philosopher to tell us what she noticed about
successful partnerships. “They’re shiny,” she replied with a
smile. “They glow in the dark.” We had interviewed her early
in our research, so we were puzzled by her assessment. Later, as
we listened to great partners describe their great partnerships
in action, we came to understand what she meant. Great part-
nerships are “on.”
Our best partner-
ships are about leveraging
our resources. They are
a product of everyone
working hard to make the
most of what we can pool
together. And sometimes
we even have fun.
—Robbie Smith,
U.S. Department of Energy

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