What does a great, two-person partnership at work look like?
It’s a dance, an interplay between two people, one in which the undertaking develops a natural momentum. Synchronicity emerges. The mingling of the best two people have to offer gets the project to a better place than either person working alone.
The feeling reminds me of two athletes passing a ball as they advance down the court. There’s a grace and a fluidity to the way the ball, and the two teammates, move. The players look like they have a shared mind and a shared purpose. Together, they make magic happen.
What are the ingredients of great partnerships? Both players:
- Have spent meaningful time in practice talking about how they’re going to work together << >> pre-project communication and expectation setting.
- Are skilled at simultaneously paying attention to the ball, to their partner, and to the field of play << >> self + partner + situational awareness
- Know, and act upon, their own, and their partners’, strengths and weaknesses << >> self-knowledge; partner knowledge; self-confidence coupled with humility
- Always catch the ball that is passed to them << >> good comms, staying present, being willing to prioritize this thing now despite competing priorities
- Communicate when they’re open, and when they’re well-guarded << >> effortlessly share their own availability, workload, mind-space for this job
- Keep the play moving forward << >> even with competing priorities, demonstrate that, especially for shared work, forward momentum is non-negotiable
- Know the goal, and have a shared intention to score << >> both keep track of the external deadline and will do what it takes to deliver on time
- Place equal value on moving without the ball, receiving the ball, dribbling the ball, and passing the ball, << >> players don’t care about authorship or about getting credit for the part each played, they care about the result.
- Full trust in one another, so that each will make the right pass, even under pressure << >> establish a foundation of “I’ve got your back” through repeated actions over time
- “I know where you’re going to be, often without even trying / looking, and I’m going to pass the ball there.” << >>
In new, two person teams, there is time and space to walk through all these steps at something short of “game speed” – setting aside time in advance to talk about how we’ll work together, norms, expectations, our plan and timelines for each step or the project, etc.
And, in best pairings, that explicit pre-preparation and rigid timeline management ultimately give way to something more creative and improvisational. This allows the work to move faster, with more fluidity, less effort, and more positive surprises. This is the evolution from co-workers to true partners.
Having looked at and dissected the best pairings in this way, we can now zoom out and ask:
How do to replicate this kind of teamwork at an organizational level?
We are, after all, grouping and regrouping constantly in our organizations, forming new teams all the time. This means pairing up with people with whom we’ve communicated less often; people who we know less well, who might be on a different team, geography or both.
That sounds both challenging and important.
And yet we spend most of our professional effort (and our professional development conversations) our individual aptitudes, and very little on how well we partner with others.
This needs to change (how to do that is a topic for another day).
But there is a secret that gives an edge to everyone on your team. It’s culture, of course.
Culture is “the way we do things around here.”
It is born as the outgrowth of whatever was created by the founding team. It is then expanded, amplified, reshaped and transformed by each and every member of the team (for more on this, check out my post on Culture Graphs).
While each organizations’ culture will necessarily be unique, in all organizations, great teaming will lead to better results, and poor teaming will gum up the works.
So, now might be the time to ask how much your culture reinforces the elements of great teaming:
- Upfront communications to set expectations
- Self-awareness; situational awareness
- Self-knowledge on the part of your team
- Open sharing of strengths and weaknesses
- Excellent, predictable communications
- Teaching folks about high-quality, dynamic prioritization
- Skillful sharing of priorities and workload; coupled with the willingness to flex when necessary
- Embodying the inherent value of forward momentum
- Prioritization of collective goals over individual ones
- The importance of supporting one another
- An unwavering norm that we keep our promises to ourselves and to others (around deadlines, around everything)
If good partnership is indeed universally valuable, then even though no two organizations’ cultures should be the same, all successful organizations must reinforce a set of behaviors that underpin successful partnership.
Without this, each team, of whatever size, has to both (1) Quickly and effectively create their own norms and behaviors for successful teaming; (2) Do so while pushing against the prevailing culture at your organization.
Why not have culture work in your favor instead?