The Good, Bad and Ugly Truth About Collaborative Partnerships

Posted on July 27, 2011 by Pam Truitt

" 'Smelling isn't everything,' said the Elephant.

'Why,' said the Bulldog, 'if a fellow can't trust his nose, what is he to trust?'

'Well, his brains perhaps,' she replied mildly.”

- C. S. Lewis

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary.  As a 21st century thoroughly modern woman, I posted a note on my personal Facebook page:  “17 years ago I met the love of my life. But, being hard-headed and stubborn, it took me a few years to realize it! Today, Cliff and I celebrate 13 years of marriage and everything that comes with being in an intimate partnership. Every partnership has its ups and downs, but love binds us. He's still The One and I'm a little less hard-headed and only slightly less stubborn!”

The post got me thinking about what it takes to be in a successful partnership. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that there are striking similarities between successful personal partnerships and successful professional partnerships: trust, shared decision-making and complimentary talents.


This is by far the big one. Without unequivocal trust, the rest of our partnership wouldn’t work.  My husband and I didn’t birth the trust we have today with a singular event—trust is a building block exercise. Our trust developed over years and with lots of experience. And we started with a date. Just as with collaborative partnerships, trust doesn't build over night. It takes honest conversations.

Shared decision-making.

Did I mention that I’m stubborn and hard-headed? I had been a single mom for many years before I met my husband and had adopted the mantra, “Thank you, but I can handle this.”  And I handled ‘it’ alright.  Sometimes effectively, sometimes not.  On the really complex problems, denial was my friend.  (Does this sound familiar?)

It took me a while to appreciate the benefits of shared decision-making, but when I did, the positive outcomes blossomed. One person—and for that matter one organization—cannot solve complex problems in a vacuum—it’s impossible. I’ve come to appreciate that with trust, shared decision-making can break barriers and move the ball on the multi-layered complexities of modern society.

Complementary talents.

Cliff and I complement each other— a very important component for a successful partnership. I plan and he implements. If we had the same talents—say we were both strong in implementing—where would our vision and planning come from? Combining our skills and talents, we eat complex problems for breakfast and move on! The same rings true for building collaborative partnerships. Many partners come together because they share similar or complementary missions.

Is life perfect in my partnership?  Of course not.  Is it worth it in the long run?  Absolutely.

As our personal partnership has matured, negotiating and compromise conversations are less intense and we can, sometimes, read each other’s minds. With aligned organizations, the honest conversations, which may be intense in the beginning can truly lead to mission optimization.

Want proof? The Foundation Center houses a great database of successful partnerships and collaboration.

Do you agree that trust, shared decision-making and complementary talent are the fundamentals for successful personal and professional partnerships? Please share you experiences with me.

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