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Four Secrets To Forming Great Partnerships

There’s one skill I never learned in school or from a book, yet I have found it to be the most valuable trait of any successful business today. In fact, back in school, they might have considered it “breaking the rules” but in real life, it’s about understanding how to work well with others.

Over the years I have been formally educated about finance, marketing, accounting, management, and information systems as a leader for ABC Financial Services, but I was never formally taught about the art of finding, developing, and working with great partners. I learned about partnerships the hard way over decades working closely with many customers, association, vendors, and colleagues. Those lessons are the most valuable education one could ever have. You see in my experience your customers are your partners, and so are your employees, your shareholders, and your vendors. A big competitive advantage today is thinking of approaching relationships as a partner. This philosophy has been a crucial aspect of ABC Financial’s success story.

Our society tends to be fixated on the individual leader; the hero who takes all the credit for winning. But the secret to success in life and work is to find others who can support your weaknesses and encourage your strengths while inspiring you to be better. This is a key basis for why partnerships are so valuable.

Most of the greatest businesses started with two partners, like Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Apple’s Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, or Hewlett Packard’s Bill Hewlett and David Packard. Some of the best businesses learn to partner with their customers, employees, vendors, and others, working together closely while supporting each other through good times and bad.

Great success stories make partnerships appear easy, but creating great partnerships is a lot harder than it looks. Why do some partnerships last while others fall apart? Here are my four secrets to forming partnerships that really work for everyone:

1. Find Strength In And Embrace What Makes Your Partner Different And Special

When you study partnerships that are working as opposed to ones that don’t, each partner sees the other person’s differences as strengths and assets rather than finding fault with the difference.

Judgment ruins relationships because it undermines our ability to understand the other person or seek the benefit of their perspective. Seeking to understand first, as Covey famously advised, always builds a better relationship. We need to see the benefit of the other person, the customer, our partner’s perspective.

Surprisingly, many successful long-term relationships don’t necessarily share the same values, but they do support each other’s values. They detect their partner’s goals and aspirations and support them. Good partners give their partner time and resources to do what is important to them even if it isn’t important to themselves.

2. Divide and Conquer the World Together

I‘ve had the chance to meet, work with, and serve some of the top performing partners at great gym, health clubs, and fitness companies. These top performing teams are always amazing, and what these companies have in common are clear lines of who is doing what, which eliminates a lot of detailed communication. When each partner has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, it saves everyone a lot of time. Great partnerships divide work according to each person’s interests and abilities.

People who are able to find what people are doing right are going to have stronger partnerships in business and life. Unfortunately, when work is divided, it’s easy for one person to see their role as more important than the other. For partnerships to last in the long run, there needs to be a sense of equality. It doesn’t work to have one person “be the boss.”

Even though they have a strong sense of who does what, the greatest customers in the fitness business which I have worked with tended to be more willing to do whatever it takes to serve the greater cause. The best companies are those where one person was always willing to sweep a floor or serve some coffee if that would help the bigger goal and mission.

3. Share The Love

Admiration builds strong relationships. You don’t have to approve of everything your partner does to compliment or value them. Pointing out what they do well encourages partners to focus on their strengths.

Dr. John Gottman was a student of the “masters and disasters of relationships.” Studying married couples to find the best predictor of how long a relationship would last, he found that the amount of positive to negative conversations was the strongest predictor of success. In fact, long-term relationships were usually marked with five positive comments to every one negative comment. People who are able to find what people are doing right are going to have stronger partnerships in business and life. To have a great partnership you need to remind your partner why you love them.

4. Be Good At Receiving Messages

When we think of great communication skills, we usually think of speaking clearly or writing well. The most ignored communication skill though is not just listening, it is the skill of receiving other people’s messages.

Dan Ariely of MIT wanted to find out how important it was to receive work and ideas performed by others. He had three groups of students complete worksheets. The difference was in how the papers were received.

When we ignore people’s work, it’s like destroying it. The first group turned in their papers and the session leader reviewed them, nodded, and put the paper in a pile. The second group of students had the session leader simply put their paper in the pile without acknowledging it. And the third group’s papers were received with the session leader shredding the paper. Each time a student completed the paper, they were paid a dollar or less for the paper.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the group that had their papers acknowledged did more work than the group that had their papers shredded–about twice as much work. The interesting scenario was the response of the second group whose papers were ignored. They responded by doing almost half the work as well. When we ignore people’s work, it’s just like shredding it.

It may feel that you are saving time by disagreeing, but taking the time to receive what your partners have said or done can be a shorter path to resolving the issue. You may strongly disagree with a person but if you receive their perspective you will get much less resistance from them.

The greatest companies in my experience are the ones who learn these secrets of forming great partnerships. What do you think?


Paul Schaller is CEO of ABC Financial Services, the industry’s leading fitness club management software that strengthens gym performance by reducing delinquencies, improving collections, and creating a better member experience. Paul is a business leader who believes everything in business begins and ends with the customer! His mission is to make sure every employee of ABC Financial Services is a maniac on a mission to make raving fans of our customers! You can learn more by following Paul on Linkedin andFacebook.