Dance Lessons: Six Steps to Great Partnerships in Business and Life


Organizations today are lean, agile, and focused, which means that partnerships are more crucial than ever to success. From outsourcing to strategic alliances, businesses depend on partners to help them meet marketplace challenges and achieve financial goals. But what does a good partnership depend on? There are many books that explain the organizational dynamics. But until now, no book has focused on the single most important component: the human factor.

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Organizations today are lean, agile, and focused, which means that partnerships are more crucial than ever to success. From outsourcing to strategic alliances, businesses depend on partners to help them meet marketplace challenges and achieve financial goals. But what does a good partnership depend on? There are many books that explain the organizational dynamics. But until now, no book has focused on the single most important component: the human factor.

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What People Are Saying

J. W. Marriott
Successful partnerships are not built on deals and contracts. They work because of the heart and soul of the relationship. Dance Lessons is a terrific instruction guide for making all of your partnerships successful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576750438
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/28/1998
  • Pages: 214
  • Product dimensions: 7.73 (w) x 9.37 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Bell is a senior partner with Performance Research Associates and manages their Dallas, Texas office. Prior to starting a consulting firm in the late 1970s, he was Vice President and Director of Management and Organization Development for NCNB.

Shea is the former president of the Tom Peters Group's training and consulting company. She is the CEO of Inspiritrix, Inc., a consulting firm.

Shea is the former president of the Tom Peters Group's training and consulting company. She is the CEO of Inspiritrix, Inc., a consulting firm.

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Read an Excerpt


By Chip R. Bell Heather Shea

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 1998 Chip R. Bell and Heather Shea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57675-043-8

Chapter One


Preparing for Partnership

They had come far since deciding to dance together for their big run at the Nationals. Now the compulsory dances were over, and the six finalist couples were each to perform their choice of dance and music for the final judging. They were to be the sixth and last couple ... and they had chosen to dance the tango to Hernando's Hideaway, going against their usual squeaky-clean, boy-and-girl-next-door image to try to coax a national championship from the judges.

As the fifth couple took the floor, they heard the opening strains of Hernando's Hideaway. Had they made a mistake in the sound booth? Had somebody gotten the music for the dances mixed up? They watched the fifth couple eagerly start their routine—a tango!—and realized the frightful truth: they would have to perform the exact same dance, to the exact same score.

In their panic, they barely heard the emcee announce, "Our sixth couple has also chosen to dance the tango." As the first few notes of Hernando's Hideaway blared again over the speakers, their legs began to feel numb. They stared blankly at one another as they struggled to remember what their first step was supposed to be.

All championship dancers, while waiting their turn before the fickle eyes of a judge, think, "What am I doing here?!" Those who succeed are those who can calm distraction, remember complex steps, and self-talk their way to self-confidence. But these are not the only critical success factors. Choosing to dance the right dance for the right reason sets the stage for successfully displaying the dancers' talent and skill.


Partnerships come in many forms and are given many labels—alliances, confederations, coalitions, guilds, associations, unions, even friendships and marriages. Dances are similar ... many forms, many labels. Partnerships can be company to company (as Ford might be to Mazda), unit to unit (as the Operations Group might be to the Sales Division), or unit to company (as the Purchasing Department might be to ABC Office Supplies, Ltd.). The labels don't really matter—one person's alliance is another person's association.

When you are focusing on getting ready to partner, it is more useful to think about a partnership in terms of its purpose. We do not mean "purpose" in the sense of mission or vision, but rather in terms of the function or reason for the partnership. The purpose of the partnership can dictate its duration and depth of involvement as well as signal the potential challenges the partners will face.

Your score from our Heels or Flats? exercise (opposite) will help you focus on what you might expect from your partnership "dance." As you read the following descriptions, pay particular attention to the perils or dangers of the type you are considering.

The Tango

The Tango is our label for the highest level of partnership. In a real tango, the dancers are very different identities (male and female) who symbolically complete each other. They must be able to anticipate and execute intricate footwork while moving almost as one.

Other real dances that share these characteristics to some degree are the rumba, the samba, the quick step, the paso doble, and some forms of ballet—as well as jitterbugs done extremely well. Recall blind Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman, or Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing, or the final competition scene of Strictly Ballroom. The physical and mental preparation for dancing at this level can be intense.

Tango partnerships are up close and personal. They require intense emotional investments. The partners' values must absolutely blend, not just be reasonably com - patible. And the trust requirement is extremely high. Partners in a Tango relationship often characterize it with emotional phrases like "We're joined at the hip," "We're soul mates," or "I don't know where we begin and they end."

Great Tango partnerships require incredibly intense energy and time, particularly in the beginning. And they are easy targets for such evils as jealousy and possessiveness. Since the trust level is so high, the fall when one partner betrays the other is so far ... and painful.

Tango partners place more value on loyalty than any of the other partnership types. In fact, they must work hard to avoid blind loyalty. They can be fiercely protective of one another—and their time together—sometimes to the detriment of other relationships important to one or both partners.

Tangos are best suited to partnering opportunities where a very high level of interdependence will be required. Such relationships are common when neither partner can do what the other does and the synergy their association will produce is valued equally by each partner. Tango partnerships are also important when trust around proprietary or highly confidential information is vital to success.

The Tango form is a must for alliances that cannot afford the costs of partnership failure and therefore seek a relationship that is thoroughly interconnected. Another situation that demands a Tango relationship is when the partnership must move as one very quickly, with minimal explanation or discussion.

One of the world's leading distributors of after-market motorcycle and power sports vehicle products is Fort Worth, Texas–based Tucker Rocky Distributing. President Frank Esposito described a Tango partnership of theirs this way:

One of our most financially successful partnerships is with a helmet manufacturer in Taiwan. Our core competency is distribution and market knowledge; theirs is cutting-edge design and manufacturing. We partnered with them to develop a completely new brand of helmet. And we guaranteed a very large number of helmet orders. Our communication is intensely open; trust is complete and without reservations. Today, other distributors knock on their door wanting a piece of their business. They say, "No thanks, we have all we need with our company, Tucker Rocky!"

Partners in Tango relationships must place continual emphasis on renewal and growth. A frequent partnership checkup can be a valuable opportunity to ensure there is a "meeting of the hearts." Ironically, the risk that a Tango partnership will fail is only moderate, since the partners' initial commitment is so high. However, the risk at performance time is also significant—a Tango fall on the stage or in the marketplace can be very painful. On the other hand, the impact of the environment or context on the success of the Tango partnership is low. Tango partnerships are rarely distracted by the audience—they "dance to their own music."

The Waltz

The Waltz is a catchall label for a wide range of everyday ballroom dances—including the Texas two-step, the fox trot, the cha cha, and the polka. The Waltz partnership has some of the characteristics of the "two people melted together" Tango, but with far less emotional investment.

Partners who "waltz" simply enjoy the grace and rhythm of their collective response to the music, as opposed to Tango partners, who hear the beating of their respective hearts. Think of a Waltz partnership as being a Tango that has been tamed by simplifying the steps and dampening the passion of the dance. Obviously, with less emotional investment, the propensity for deep disappointment is far less in a Waltz than in a Tango.

A key peril of a Waltz partnership is the participants may find so much strength in the form of the relationship that they never tap the potential emotional depth of partnering. Waltzers make easy assumptions that Tangos avoid. And, unlike Tango partners who never miss one another's subtle cues, no matter how loud the surrounding noise, Waltzers are easily distracted by peripheral issues. They are quick to look outside the partnership, for example, for quick solutions to problems or for a shot of creative energy.

Waltzes are the right form of partnership when some aspects of the relationship need the security of a well-heeled alliance but other aspects can tolerate more freedom. Waltz partnerships are particularly appropriate when the output of the relationship requires tightly coordinated systems and processes but not much emotional interdependence. For instance, the systems of the intertwined entities must work like a Swiss watch, but success is less dependent on the people in the partnership being emotionally close.

When Heather was director of marketing planning and communication for Arthur Andersen & Co., she was responsible for all advertising for the firm's accounting and consulting services. While successful advertising campaigns depended on her department's creative copy, it also was imperative that their ads comply with regulations governing the public accounting profession.

Heather invited a lead attorney in the firm's legal department to "waltz" with her through her ad campaigns, from concept through production. Heather's campaigns gained credibility and punch; his role in the company changed from "bad cop" to trusted advisor.

The Square Dance

Square Dances are moderation in motion. They require a great deal of coordination, but little emotional intensity—real square dancers even partner with different people as they dance! In the words of dyed-in-the-wool professional square dancers Tom and Princess Newhouse of Gun Barrel, Texas, "While you usually promenade home with your original partner, you sashay, allemande left, and do-si-do out on the floor with lots of others."

Square Dance partnerships usually have very strict rules and protocols, though, and they can be heavily influenced by outsiders, just as the non-dancing caller in a real square dance choreographs the moves on the floor.

Square Dance partnerships are high-risk alliances because of their hybrid nature. The partners often exhibit an uneasy ambivalence—acting sometimes like Tango partners and sometimes more like they are doing the electric slide or some group folk dance. Consequently, they have to work hard to avoid distractions and stay in focus to keep from sidestepping their alliance.

The Square Dance is the logical choice when the partnership is bound by strict external regimens or rules (such as a those governing the healthcare or securities industries) but the players are free to add their own style or flair to how they partner. Square Dances are valuable when the partners need to periodically involve others outside the partnership, either to enrich the relationship or to enable it to achieve a goal it might not otherwise be able to do. The Square Dance form also serves well when the partnership is to be relatively short in duration, but needs to be precise in executing its game plan.

A good example of the Square Dance style is the manner in which The Tom Peters Group approaches partnership. The Peters organization gets countless queries every year about forming alliances. Some are solid opportunities for synergy, but many are from entities who bring little to the table other than their desire to ride on the company's name. Sorting the stars from the starstruck requires a rational, logical assessment. While they partner with a few, they are very careful not to alter or dilute the company's reputation or the distinction of its name and brand.

When Heather was president of The Tom Peters Group/Learning Systems, the partner ship philosophy worked like this:

If we were considering a partnership with another company, we would make sure that it was very clear where we were heading and what each of us was going to get out of the partnership. You have to do it in very deliberate terms, not just "Wow, this is exciting, think of the possibilities." Without the tough, rational part up front, when you finally say, "Okay, now let's get married," everyone suddenly goes, "Whoa, time out! This really is serious!"

The Twist

There are many twist-like dances: the lindy, swing, Charleston, shag, jive, flamenco, bossa nova—and jitterbugs done poorly! All these dances essentially involve two people dancing separately in front of each other. Some of their moves are somewhat connected, but most of the time they are doing their own thing. We consider Twist partnerships to be the middle ground between the moderate Square Dance and the almost completely independent Line Dance.

Twist partnerships are an appropriate form when the lion's share of the work of the alliance will be done independently, but one consequential part is to be done collectively. Twist partnerships are also a good choice when the appearance of having the relationship is more valuable than its substance. This might occur when the perception that two entities work closely together is important in the marketplace, even if their actual relationship is somewhat casual or perfunctory. This is the classical supplier-vendor relationship, like the local car repair shop that touts its genuine NAPA parts.

A recent example of an ill-advised Twist partnership was a well-known candy company that was introducing a specialty candy and sought to partner with a candy wrapper manufacturer. Enormous energy and expense went into creating a unique chocolate bar to tie into a famous movie-related media event.

Unfortunately, millions were lost because the wrapper supplier was unable to provide enough wrappers to respond to unexpected market demand. Their next introduction of a specialty candy item was more carefully partnered—the candy-maker recognized that its vendor needed to be a partner, not simply a supplier.

The Line Dance

The Line Dance is a catchall term for the slew of dances that are more like emotional support groups on the floor than interdependent couplings. Think of various "herd dances" like the bunny hop, the hully gully, the macarena, or the electric slide. With these forms the dancers are completely independent; they are dancing together only because it is more fun to do it in a group.

Line Dance partnerships offer the advantages of assistance and support without all the emotional entanglement. The relationship is not a symbiotic one, where the partners mesh unique capacities. Instead it is a more fluid pairing, in which the partners pool similar offerings in the belief that joining forces will make their output more productive, their processes more efficient, and their effort more satisfying.

Line Dance partnerships are appropriate when the alliance adds value to a product or service in the minds of their customers but neither of the partners is dependent on its success. For example, if Banana Republic, J. Crew, and Ben & Jerry's were to share the same contract parking lot and valet service for the convenience of their collective customers.

Line Dance partnerships work when the convenience and com fort of an ongoing relationship is preferable to a temporary, transaction-specific encounter. They can also be useful for a single or periodic customer-driven event, like an annual "Taste of the Town" affair in which numerous food-based entities partner to promote their business to the entire community.

A well-known Line Dance partnership is the alliance between Wile E. Coyote and Acme Manufacturing in the Warner Bros. Roadrunner cartoon series. Clearly there is no emotional involvement ... Wile E. never complains, and Acme never offers to refund his money when the Whiz Bang Rocket Skates—or whatever—falter in their promise. Yet their relationship is more than a simple series of sales transactions. Wile E. seems supported by the fact that Acme will continue to create and market a continual stream of "Catch the Roadrunner" contraptions, and Acme presumably appreciates the financial benefits of acting as Wile E.'s sole-source supplier.


Excerpted from DANCE LESSONS by Chip R. Bell Heather Shea Copyright © 1998 by Chip R. Bell and Heather Shea. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Foreword by Tom Peters....................ix
Introduction: Shall We Dance?....................1
STEP ONE FOCUSING: Preparing for Partnership....................12
Lesson 1. Choosing the Right Partnership for the Right Reasons....................25
Lesson 2. Understanding What Makes a Great Partnership....................33
STEP TWO AUDITIONING: Picking Great Partners....................42
Lesson 3. What Makes a Great Partner?....................53
Lesson 4. Conducting a Partnership Test: The Virtual Audition....................61
Lesson 5. A Partnership Test: The Eleven-Point Checklist....................75
STEP THREE REHEARSING: Getting the Partnership in Shape....................82
Lesson 6. The Conditions of Conditioning....................89
Lesson 7. Blocking Out Your Performance Together....................101
Lesson 8. Three Partnering Drills....................113
STEP FOUR DANCING: Keeping the Magic in Motion....................124
Lesson 9. Using Your Heart to Keep Great Partnerships Great....................129
Lesson 10. Using Your Head to Keep Great Partnerships Great....................137
STEP FIVE HURTING: Managing the Pain in Partnership....................142
Lesson 11. What to Do When You Trip Up....................149
Lesson 12. Coping with Pain That's Not Your Fault....................159
STEP SIX BOWING OUT: Calling It Curtains....................170
Lesson 13. Ending a Partnership That Flopped....................175
Lesson 14. Ending a Partnership That Worked....................185
The Final Lesson: Promenade Home....................195
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