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Is it Time to “Get Real” About your Partnership?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Are you a partner in your business, or searching for that perfect co-founder to complement your skill set? Whether you’re running the family business with your spouse or just starting to kick around startup ideas with a friend from college, it’s only a matter of time before relationship issues start to creep into your work life. It’s all fun and games until real money is on the line, and difficult decisions have to be made. Suddenly, that carefree attitude you used to love in your friend now seems irresponsible or even lazy. Alternatively, that ambition and drive you once admired has now turned your partner into a micro-manager and you find yourself making snide comments or worse, saying nothing but seething inside. 

Relationship issues will surface in just about any business partnership. Like marriage, business partnerships take work and maintenance. Some thoughtful planning at the outset and strategic tools for fine-tuning can go a long way toward setting the tone for a successful partnership and making your work feel fulfilling again.  

Opposites attract, or do they? 

One frustrating truth about both marriages and business partnerships is that the secret to success will be different for everyone. We humans are complicated creatures. Some of us thrive with a partner who is our opposite personality-wise. Co-founders William Hanna and Joseph Barbera of the Hanna-Barbera animation empire illustrate this point. Their 60-plus year partnership brought us Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons, the Flintstones and the Smurfs, making use of their complementary skill sets. Barbera has always been the gag writer and sketch artist, complimented by Hanna’s gift for timing, story construction, and recruiting top artists. They made major business decisions together, alternating the title of president between them each year. But their personalities couldn’t have been more different. Hanna was a an all-American family man and Eagle Scout who loved the outdoors and avoided the spotlight, while Barbera was a creature of his New York City upbringing who thrived in the Hollywood social scene. Their divergent interests meant they rarely talked outside of work, but they almost never argued and often referenced their perfect understanding of and respect for each other.  

On the other end of the spectrum, new research suggests that opposites don’t really attract after all, in a variety of relationship types, and the truth is that the human tendency is to seek out those whose personalities are very much like our own.

What’s the Secret to a Successful Business Partnership? Talk it out.

So if there’s no universal formula to determine what makes a successful partnership, what can partners do to ensure they are each other’s best co-pilot on the journey? We recommend that potential partners, or even partners who are already in business together, work through a series of questions to clarify whether their goals for the business are similar, whether their roles are clearly defined and complementary, whether they can work through money issues together, whether they can carve out complementary areas of control, if they are able to engage in constructive communication, and whether they have complementary values and life and work styles. We’ll be leading an SBDC workshop for partners on October 25 at 9:30 a.m., where we will be introducing and working through these questions. 

The major takeaway from answering the questions has less to do with the actual responses, and more to do with the overall sense, at the conclusion of the exercises, that each partner gets for the other’s integrity and ability to communicate. The latest research, as well as our own anecdotal observations, suggests that these are the most defining features of what makes for a successful partnership. 

What does Google say? 

Google did its own research to try and determine what qualities made for the most successful teams. It turns out that while successful teams could look very different from each other, the common elements were:
  • In successful teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’  
  • The good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they demonstrated empathy by intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.  In other words, the high-functioning teams exhibited “psychological safety,” a sense of confidence that speaking up would not be met with embarrassment, rejection, or punishment.  

The Perks of Partnership

Despite the depressing statistics for both marriage and business partner failure rates, there are compelling reasons to partner up. Sharing the burdens of running a business and having the support of a teammate can be invaluable.  For extra assurance that the team you’re building is likely to be a success, we recommend starting with an honest conversation about your goals, roles, money, control, communication, values, and life and work styles, to determine for yourself whether your team exhibits the fundamental qualities that contribute to successful teams. Tap into how the conversations make you feel, and if you feel energized and supported, your partnership is more likely to succeed. 

This content was provided by Chuck Hunker and Jaime Roth, co-founders of True Connect LLC.  They are committed to helping entrepreneurs achieve their highest vision by working together amicably and effectively. As co-founders and business partners, we understand the benefits and challenges of implementing a vision together. 


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