In Praise of Partnership*


I’m not sure when “partner” became a verb, and truth be told, my inner lexicographer probably winced the first few times I heard it. But now I have adopted it whole-heartedly. So much so that today I partnered with a terrific coach and consultant, Leigh Marz, to interview for an exciting consulting project involving three non-profit entities that are — you guessed it — partnering in service of a shared mission.

Partnership offers so much more than going it alone. For Leigh and me, partnering provides complementarity of skills and experience. Our partnership allows us to better serve our potential clients in part because of our different backgrounds and strengths, yet we share enough common values, language, and skills to work effectively together. Partnerships also can bring together the resources of multiple aligned interests or stakeholders who share a common goal, through public-private partnerships, governments partnering with NGOs, non-profits banding together. In some cases, partnership is the only way to get things done.

Of course, partnerships also have their own sets of unique challenges. Although interests may align or overlap, the issue around which entities partner is often only a piece of what the larger organization is about. This can create mismatches of commitment and accountability. Further, partners wielding differing amounts of power may experience friction over decision-making. And often, the partners may come from radically different cultures (such as business, non-profit, and government), making it difficult to communicate, build trust, and manage conflict.

The good news is that all of these challenges can be met by a proactive and aware partnership. And where it gets really exciting and productive is where the partnership can create its own culture, balancing the interests of its members. Creating and maintaining a culture of positivity and productivity leads to strong, effective partnership.

Plus, it’s a lot more fun. Here’s a noun-turned-verb I can embrace!

*In case you were disappointed to learn that this post is not about marriage, I’ll let you in on a secret: it actually is. Marriage partnerships can face all of the challenges identified above and also can benefit from all of the strengths. And while I’m talking about marriage, I do want to acknowledge my husband, Reece. I’m so glad I “partnered” with him nine years ago.