Six key steps to developing a strong partnership foundation in business
1) Firstly, consider these four qualities that are the basis of strong partnerships;
If you’re considering going into business with someone or working on a project together, consider these qualities in both them and yourself;
- Are you both open communicators? What are your communication styles?
- Are you comfortable with conflict? Will you both be willing to discuss and confront issues? How do each of you typically deal with conflict?
- Are you both emotionally open? Will you be able to approach issues with awareness, transparency, honesty and an understanding of how your emotions play into various decisions/situations, affecting how you show up?
- Can you compromise? How do you deal with differences? Are you both able to see challenges from multiple points of view? Are you both open to new ways of doing things? Will you be willing to compromise?
2) Put in the groundwork with your business partner.
Make sure you are aware of each other’s goals, motivations and expectations before you jump in
As a first step, It’s important you each take some time upfront to consider why you want to go into this partnership. What are each of your goals, motivations, hopes and expectations?
Follow these prompts:
You might currently be in a partnership, considering one, or know that partnerships, collaborations and building stronger relationships will be an important part of your work and growth moving forward. Wherever you are, these prompts below can be helpful.
- What are your goals? What are your hopes for this project and partnership? What is your level of commitment? Be honest and upfront about your life plans. You can’t predict everything but if you have a major life change on the horizon – kids, divorce, moving house, a personal health issue, care for an aging parent – your potential partner should know it.
- What is your timeline and key measure of success? What does success look like and how quickly are you expecting to get there? How long are you willing to stay in the partnership?
- What are your financial expectations? When do you expect to get paid? Will you invest any of your own money? How much?
- What are your responsibilities and commitments outside of work? What other responsibilities do you both have that need your time and attention?
- What are your values? Trust is paramount in a partnership. While you may have differences in work styles and skill sets at the deepest level your core values need to be aligned. Get clear on what those are and where your deal breakers lie.
- What is your work style? When and where do you do your best work, how do you prefer to communicate? How do you handle stress? How do you resolve conflict? What weaknesses/blindspots do you have? What do you love doing most, what are your strengths and what type of things do you dislike doing?
- What is your sustainability plan? What do you need to do to make sure the work you do is sustainable? What are your tools and practices to make sure you prioritize your wellbeing, avoid overworking, prolonged stress and burnout? What enables you to show up as your best self? Plan to make each other aware of any health issue or days in your cycle you’re feeling out of sorts. We’re all human and are not able to be on our full game 100% of the time. Others are able to show you greater empathy and be more patient if you share what’s going on with you, create space and permission for them to do the same.
Being more in tune and prepared means when a great partnership opportunity comes your way you will be able to see the potential (or pitfalls) more easily and navigate those important and defining early conversations with more ease and clarity.
3) Assess the skills do you and your business partner bring to the table
You don’t need another one of you, the best partnerships include leaders who have different skill sets. If one partner thinks big picture and is the lead strategist, the other partner ideally will excel in operations and implementation. Your partner should fill in your gaps, and not simply add bandwidth. Think about areas that each of you excel and also pay attention to things you don’t like doing. It’s wise to lean into each other’s strengths but also realize there will need to be some compromise (one person shouldn’t get all the tasks you both hate).
4) Assign areas of responsibility early on in your partnership
Once you’ve done a deep dive on each other’s skills, motivations and goals, figure out who is going to do what and create clear processes and lines of communication. While at the start of any partnership over communication is a great idea, If you don’t divide up the work in a way that makes sense you will both end up working on everything, do twice as much work as you need to, step on each other’s toes often, make mistakes and get frustrated. You also won’t feel a sense of ownership and accountability which can be very demotivating.
5) Be the naysayer, right from the start of your relationship
While things are typically all sparkly and rosy at the start of a partnership, it’s important to put all of your possible obstacles, objections, fears and concerns on the table. Lay them all out there, determine what might not work then go through each one by one and address those concerns.
6) Start with the end of your relationship in mind and create a partnership agreement
Partnerships are like marriages you expect to end in divorce: It’s nearly impossible for two or more people to be on the same life trajectory forever. Knowing this fact up front is the key to planning both before and during the course of a partnership to ensure its strength and success.
— Kristi Hedges, Entrepreneur.com
Despite some negative ideas people have about partnerships, they don’t need to be contentious, full of conflict or end badly but it is a good idea to do your homework upfront. Go in with a decent level of awareness and protect yourselves in the long term as you will likely spend many hours, weeks or even years on the work you do together. It’s much easier to set something up before the relationship is starting out than down the road with a big hairy issue in front of you both.
After going through the above steps, put your expectations, triggers and milestones plus an end goal/exit plan on paper. Hire a competent attorney to help you put a partnership agreement in place so you both have a clear path for exiting the business. Make sure the agreement has some teeth and is enforceable. It’s ok to review and update this agreement along the way or when you hit key milestones or turning points.
Strong partnerships take time, work and energy
Work partnerships, whether short or long-term, take ongoing work. It takes daily practice of transparency, strong communication plus a whole lot of patience and empathy to keep your relationship strong. If you don’t tend to it It will eventually create just as much work on the other side, only the cleaning up effort will be a lot less fun.
Eight ways you can strengthen your relationships over time;
FOCUS ON THE RELATIONSHIP AS MUCH AS THE WORK.
Relationships over productivity
- We’re so busy most of the time and value productivity above almost everything else, so we don’t make room for our relationships to breathe.
Be intentional about your relationship
- Make sure you schedule regular check-ins with your partner, a monthly breakfast or lunch where you only talk about your relationship, no shop talk, no phones, no interruptions allowed.
Create space to have hard conversations
- A practice like this can create time and space to air out simmering issues and put any potential conflicts on the table before they fester and turn into grudges or worse, deep resentment.
Connect with your business partner on a personal level
- It also gives us the opportunity to reconnect on a personal level and talk about things other than work. Make a habit of starting with the hard conversations first, so you don’t spend all your time on the catching up part to avoid conflict!
Value and embrace your and your partner’s differences
- Value and embrace your differences: You don’t need another one of you, the best partnerships include leaders who have different skill sets. If one partner thinks big picture, and is the lead strategist, the other partner ideally will excel in operations and implementation. Your partner should fill in your gaps, and not simply add bandwidth.
PRACTICE CLEAR AND PROACTIVE COMMUNICATION
We tend to think we’re being clear when often we’re not.
- It’s typically left to the person on the receiving end of the message to understand, but the person communicating the message also needs to make sure their communication has been understood as intended.
Slow down your communication, a lot.
- We often talk quickly and at each other and over each other in an effort to be efficient, but when we do that there is a lot of room for confusion, and misinterpretation plus assumptions will be made when there are gaps in understanding.
When the other person is talking, listen and don’t interrupt.
- Don’t be thinking about your response or get defensive, just listen. When they are done, ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they are saying and to clear up any potential confusion. If you are the communicator, slow down your pace and allow space for people to digest the information and ask questions. Look for facial cues and body language to see if what you are saying is landing and if in doubt, ask the other person to repeat back in their own words what they understood.
Plan your meetings ahead of time and be present.
- Schedule your meeting and make an agenda. When you meet, put down your phone, stop checking your email or slack, don’t keep looking at your watch or thinking about your next meeting, and avoid interruptions. Give the other person your full attention.
CHECK-IN ON YOUR PARTNER OFTEN.
We already discussed assigning areas of responsibility creating clear lanes to avoid stepping over each other and doing more work than you need to. These lanes will ebb and flow over time, so make sure you check in every so often to on each other’s workload. Make sure it feels equitable both from both the volume of work you’re each doing and the type of work you’re doing.
SCHEDULE STRATEGIC PLANNING SESSIONS WITH YOUR PARTNER
Don’t try to fit your strategy sessions into your regular update meetings. Set aside a strategic planning session every 6-8 weeks to review the business progress against clearly defined goals. Block a decent amount of time, 4-6 hours, to take a breath, reflect on what the business has accomplished, discuss potential changes in direction, and set short-term goals that roll up to your long-term goals.
FOCUS ON YOUR 80/20. YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS
One way to achieve more by doing less is to focus on the 20% of activities that drive 80% of your business goals. Put your energy into those things.
MAKE A PLAN TO DELEGATE AND OUTSOURCE
Long term you can’t do everything, even in a partnership. Consider where each of you add the most value and things that bring you joy, outsource the things that hold you back, your partnership will be stronger for it. If money is a concern with outsourcing, reframe it, think about the incremental value each of you could bring to the business if you had more of your time and headspace available.
LEARN HOW TO FIGHT AND RESOLVE CONFLICT
Brittle things break, learn how to address any feelings of conflict early and often.
When it came to our own conflict style (or lack thereof), we sensed we were doing it (or, erm, not doing it) all wrong, and our management coach confirmed that when we started seeing him. Right away, he made it clear to us that we had to start articulating our feelings when we were annoyed, frustrated, or just straight-up mad at the other.
— Erica Cerulo and Claire Mazur
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