When I’m asked about what I do, I often say I help business partners who skipped the
pre-marital counseling before entering a partnership. They then run into challenges with their communication, unequal work loads, lack of alignment and other issues.
Business partnerships can be extraordinary and work amazingly well, but we have all been in, or heard of, a business partnership that was very challenging and unfulfilling, impacting the business success.
1. Create a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Your day to day role is often different from your partnership role. You may be a partner as well as the CEO or the President, COO, etc. It's important to consider if the roles are equitable as far as each of your contributions to the company. When partners reach out to me for assistance, often there can be resentment between partners when one partner is accountable for more in the company or contributing more to the company's success than the other. Set it up from the beginning so it's an equal business load.
2. Talk through potential breakdowns in the beginning and come up with a plan of what you’ll do if/when it happens. Most business partnerships have some sort of legal document drawn up but I find that it usually doesn’t address the real, day-to-day breakdowns that happen in partnerships. What happens when you disagree on strategy or bringing on another partner? What will you do if your communication starts going off the rails? What might happen if one of you makes a mistake that costs the company? These are issues worth diving into in a very specific, real and honest conversation with each other.
3. Have a regular structure for on-going communication and alignment conversations. These may be regular weekly meetings that discuss business issues, but also always address how you're working together. One partner may ask another: How was it working with me this week? Then listen to understand their answer and encourage honesty.
4. Listen with curiosity. We all have a different view of a situation. If you can listen for the other person's world view, vs. listening for whether you agree or you disagree, you will begin to understand each other. Take for instance two parents--one who is very strict and the other very lenient. They will disagree. They both have valid points. And the solution is somewhere in the middle.
But if you don't listen with curiosity to understand the other person's view of the world, you won't get beyond being right about your position on the matter. You might assess your own ability to communicate non-reactively. How do you communicate when you're upset so you can be heard? Do you avoid confrontation? Are you willing to talk through matters deeply until you're aligned? I promise you will disagree on significant issues. How will you handle that in a way the strengthens the business and your partnership?
5. Be open to coaching and feedback from your partner and be willing to give coaching and feedback. When you own a business, technically there is no one to hold you accountable for your performance. In a business partnership, that's not true. But will you listen to the feedback? Will you argue and defend yourself instead? Will you just not say anything and let your frustration fester? Practicing this skill in real time will strengthen your performance, your relationship and the business.
If your relationship is strong, the business will be more successful. Avoiding issues almost always makes challenges more challenging. Focusing on these key areas to success will set your partnership on the right track.