Gaudi and Güell

If you have had the fortune of visiting Barcelona, Spain you have witnessed the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.  His design adorns a collection of residences, churches, and urban infrastructure in many neighborhoods within the city.  His most significant benefactor was Eusebi Güell.  Güell was the visionary who saw Gaudi’s talent and was willing to invest in his unique approach. Güell commissioned him to design Palau Güell, the family’s personal residence and then move Gaudi onto even larger scale ambitions including Park Güell, a planned community complete with market, gathering places, and a design impregnated with nature’s influence.

My wife remarked to me that she did not know if Gaudi needed Güell more for his career or if Güell an already prominent business man received more from Gaudi.  I think they needed each other.  Where Güell saw the vision and reward of investing in grand and revolutionary projects, Gaudi focused on the details of inspiring the physical form and design necessary to transform each project into a remarkable structure.  

The Gaudi and Güell partnership was prolific for what it accomplished in design and intellect.  Even when the vision proved too unconventional for the time, today they have become wildly popular destinations.  Güell’s wife moved the family out of Palau Güell within months of its completion and Park Güell never received enough interest to become the anticipated community of homes leaving it touched only by Gaudi’s initial contributions and nature.

Partnerships are essential for success.  Going it alone rarely yields the impact of a dedicated team.  Having a person who asks “why” is equally important as the individual who thinks about “how”.  Who looks towards the horizon and who keeps their focus inwards within your enterprise?  Knowing the value of the why/how partnership can ensure powerful results.

Being Dropped

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I am confused by the recent uproar over Susan G. Komen Foundation’s decision to discontinue funding to Planned Parenthood who in turn provided cancer screen services.  What appeared to be a fabulous partnership seems to have unfolded in unlikely circumstances.  There may be very good reasons for this parting-of-the-ways but the message had been poorly articulated.  If the decision was politically motivated as has been suggest by some reports the execution has been handled to create division.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation has seemingly tossed aside a long-time partner with little appreciation and respect which is now causing serious ramifications to its reputation and distracting the foundation from its core purpose.

Update: The Susan G. Komen Foundation has reversed it decision today after initially defending its policy of not funding organization that were under investigation.  The ramifications of this episode will be interesting to monitor.  Short-term hiccup or long-term impact?

Mine and Yours

I spent a couple hours speaking to representatives from United and Continental Airlines regarding a variety of travel issues triggered by their pending merger.  I was fortunate that all of the representatives I interacted with were noticeably sincere and helpful.  What was particularly illuminating is that most of my conversation included the language ‘us’ and ‘them’.   It makes me wonder, how do you bring two large enterprises together in a sector as competitive as the airlines.  The next round of the operations merger is scheduled for March 2012.  How does the term ‘them’ morph into ‘us’ and a sense being one?

The same scenario is being played out in the social sector as organizations partner, merge, or hand over their programs to another enterprise.  Combining staff, board, volunteers, and donors is not without systemic and cultural shifts.  How prepared is your cause to partner, merge, or even discuss the potential?

Two helpful resources include:

Nonprofit Mergers and Alliances

Champion or Finisher?

“If we were good at everything, we have not need for each other” Simon Sinek

Your cause plays an essential role in your community.  The more you excel within your specialty, the greater the partnership opportunities with other specialist.  Often enterprises that attempt to generalize find that they have a harder time partnering since they see overlaps everywhere. Without clarity about your unique purpose it is easy to be a member of the pack instead of a gold medalist.
Some of the most successful educators in the classroom are not the ones who try to do it all but rather those who collaborate.  They bring their expertise and then turn to others to get new and innovative ideas.  Teachers can be an incredible sharing and supportive community.  They bring their talents and must prove themselves everyday.  Have you ever lost the attention of group of third graders?  They can find other ways to entertain themselves quickly if you do not perform.  Best to succeed using your strengths than find yourself over matched in a game you are not equipped to compete.

Me or Us

When speaking on television about education Bill Cosby said, “it is there for you but it is not going to come to you.”  I believe that a perception exists that everything we need should come to us.  That we deserve services and programs to work around our schedules.  The beauty of a remarkable interaction is that it involves two people making an investment of their talents in each other.  We have to be willing to go and discover that which we seek.  Some enterprises train their advocates that the organization will always come to them when there is a question or a requirement for funding.  Why not create an environment where you meet in the middle?  In making an effort from both sides you have collaborated to form a partnership.  

I adminsiter a funding program that awards scholarships to youth recipients who wished to attend extra-curricular events, perhaps a dance program or summer camp.  Our biggest challenge has been ensuring full scholarship recipients attended the entire program.  Once we removed the option of a full scholarship and required the youth organization and the applicant or their parents to contribute towards the registration fees the foundation encountered no absenteeism.  Meeting somewhere in the middle was a powerful lever for everyone involved.

I am reminded of Robert Frost’s poem, Mending Wall that speaks to the ideology of a shared experience.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.  

Robert Frost, Mending Wall

My Idea

One of the barriers to successful mergers or partnerships is the emotional attachment to the idea. It is challenging to let go of a concept that we raised from the creative incubator and developed into a reality. The arguments for developing a partnership may be compelling.  But is the letting-go of the ownership of an initiative that often keeps an enterprise from transitioning to the next level.  What does not show-up in a Venn diagram is the power of emotion.  Sometimes small considerations that allow for the founder to keep some attachment to the original concept can allow the partnership to progress.


If you could borrow employees from another organization for one project, which employees would you select for what project?  Have you considered bartering for an in-kind trade?  I recently saw an HR representative create a number of employee manuals for local nonprofits who returned the favor by getting their volunteers to support the HR representatives organization’s major public event.

Not everything needs to be paid position- consider what assets you can exchange.

Recipient or Partner

I just received fantastic information from a cause I support and I have been asked to share it with a major advocate of the organization.  A compelling report shows the organization to be performing exceedingly well when compared to peer institutions.  I was ready to forward the document via email and add a quick message to the advocate explaining how they can clearly see the organization’s success when viewed on the attached spreadsheet.  Then a colleague spoke-up.  My co-worker suggested that an email seems like a rather small return when sharing such valuable data.  Why not frame the information with few detailed points that the cause believes is important and then ask the advocate for their interpretation of the data?  Gain their insights on the benchmarking numbers.  Make them a partner in creating the findings of the report.  Take our joint efforts and share them with a greater audience.

My first hunch was to treat the advocate as a recipient.  My colleague’s focus was on transforming the advocate into a partner.  Partners make for a personalized relationship.  Partners are invested in an enterprise’s success.  Partnerships cannote a more formal relationship.  Recipients are omnipresent.  Being a recipient requires filtering information before one even decides which emails are even worth considering.  Partners provide advice and rise far above recipients.

Do you partner with key individuals and organizations or is everyone a recipient?  Can you partners engage each other in dialogue?  Do you listen to your partners recommendations?

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Dream Team

Yesterday’s financial market crash and recovery makes for dramatic headlines.  The system appeared to free fall for a few minutes and technology took control.  Tied into the market volatility is the impact of Greece’s debt.  Charlie Rose’s interview of Martin Wolf of the Financial Times brought to light observations about forming an ideal partnership.  He suggested that the original group of countries that founded the European Union (EU) made sense.  The core countries were connected to each other by similar cultures, geography, manufacturing, and markets.  When the EU expanded and additional countries were introduced to the union, there was a significant shift in the selection criteria.  Mr. Wolf’s point is that bringing Greece into the EU did not make sense as the Greeks shared little cultural, manufacturing, or market symbiosis with the original members.  Now that the Greek economy needs rescuing, Germany is challenged to find a compelling reason save Greece during its economic emergency.  The core members’ primary motivation is to save the EU simply to manage their own fate.

This real-time example is a reminder to set clear criteria.  Partner with organizations that are going to serve the team’s interest in both positive and challenging environment.  The current uproar around the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s marketing venture with Kentucky Fried Chicken reminds us that partnerships are not always simple.  Consider asking if the partnering organization ‘contribute more’ or ‘take more’ from a collaboration?  Are there conditions where the partnership is ideal?  How do you honor the criteria by which a partnership was entered?  How will you measure the effectiveness of the union?

Combining Two Services

Peanut butter and jelly, fork and spoon (into the spork), and a car and GPS navigation. All are examples of existing entities that decided to merge to create a new service or product. Now your cellphone camera and online search engines are teaming-up. I just watched this Google advertisement and will not think of my smart phone the same way.

What partnerships might you consider that combine two established features or programs? What models exist as templates? Who and what do you need to expedite such a merger?