Are you considering forming a new business partnership soon? Maybe you already have a business partner and you’re looking for ways to improve your working relationship? This article will help!
It all starts when you say ‘I do’ 💒
The chapel falls silent. You turn your head. Standing there at the end of the aisle, looking absolutely radiant, is… your business partner.
That’s right – forming a business partnership is a big step. Like, a really big step. This is why I often compare it to a marriage.
This is because business partnerships actually get quite personal. When you commit to a business partner, you’re not just agreeing to weekly meetings and lunch conversations dedicated to creating great OKRs.
You are actually committing to sharing responsibilities, agreeing to spend dozens of hours together every week, and deciding to intertwine your finances.
When you form a business partnership, you make a promise to be there for each other – through thick and thin.
Sounds just like a wedding vow, right?
Partnerships like this are often necessary for an organization to reach its potential. But to make that happen, you and your partner need to establish a sense of harmony and cohesion.
This takes deliberate planning and focused effort. However, focusing solely on what you want to accomplish and neglecting to focus on how you are working together is a recipe for disaster.
One of the best ways to work through this process is by creating a “The Blueprint of We” document. As such, I’ll be referencing The Blueprint of We throughout this article.
Share and understand expectations
If you’re considering forming a business partnership with someone, then you already know something about the other person. You have at least some idea about their strengths and weaknesses, and how they complement your own.
The same is true for your partner about you.
Though it’s safe to assume that these perceptions and ideas exist, that’s not enough. It’s essential to establish them on paper clearly and concisely.
Think about your business partner. Consider what you expect them to accomplish and how you expect them to behave.
Are they forgiving, focused, and gentle? Or are they ambitious, hungry, and energetic? Don’t focus solely on the technical aspects of your partners’ skillset. Think about their personality, emotions, and desires.
Using the Blueprint of We, this would be the stage where you define “The Story of Us.”
The Story of Us
In the Story of Us, each person writes down what attracted them to the other person (as a business partner!) and the company itself.
Honestly discussing thoughts and expectations with your business partner can be enlightening and humbling. It will open up dialogues that otherwise would never be possible.
Of course, each member of the partnership has their own motives for entering the partnership.
Sometimes people look for a partner to raise finance, or to gain skills, or even to gain contacts. Even if they are not always voiced, these motives continue to exist as an underlying expectation. The connection can therefore become strained if the expectation is not met.
Each person’s knowledge, drive, and personality are unique. It’s important to discuss these differences before any contractual obligations begin. Always keep in mind that you are not simply pooling resources. You are also pooling your ability to scale effectively and efficiently.
Your capacity for growth and your organization’s capacity for growth are one in the same. A valuable partnership should be capable of sharing resources and adjusting as the needs of the partnership change over time.
Think about your highs and lows 🤔
This is where the concept of “through thick and thin” becomes important.
It’s crucial to understand how you work in ideal circumstances. However, we all know that many days are far from ideal. This is where The Blueprint of We suggests reflecting on Interaction Styles and Warning Signs.
Consider how you interact with colleagues, clients, customers, and anyone else with whom you may come in contact throughout the day. How is your interaction style different from that of your business partner?
Focusing on what makes your interaction style different may highlight some behaviors that you never noticed before. You might learn something new about the things you do every single day.
Once you have given some attention to interaction styles, then think about warning signs.
What does it look like when things are going south? What kinds of interactions and situations get you upset or worked up? Most importantly, what are some things that your partner might be able to do to help restore your balance, even if you’re too worked up to ask for them at the moment?
Identify Warning Signs
Reflecting on conflict and negative situations is something we often overlook until we are in the moment.
At that point, it’s too late to come up with an action plan.
So, discussing how to handle these situations before they ever come up can help resolve problems quickly and without excessive escalation.
Recognizing your individual warning signs will also help you recognize overlapping weaknesses. It’s common for tiny problems to accumulate in areas where neither partner has competence nor enthusiasm. Over time, those tiny problems can build to become major issues.
These limitations can exist in any area: strategy, product/service creation, marketing and sales, people and operations management, financial management, and administrative services, among others.
No matter where they are, it is critical to recognize them early. Develop a plan for dealing with them so that they do not spiral out of control.
As time goes on, pay attention to the areas that are causing you difficulties. There is a good chance these locations might use some further assistance. Areas of deficiency are commonly ignored if there are financial concerns, and it can be easy to fall into the trap of “we can’t afford to fix it.”
If you find yourself uttering those words, take a step back and look at what the situation will cost if it goes unaddressed. The opportunity cost of inaction can be easy to underestimate.
Design your partnership
Great relationships take active effort from all parties involved. Like most things of beauty and efficiency, you craft them with care and attention to detail.
Developing relationships in such a deliberate manner can feel a bit staged, but with the high levels of risk involved with forming a business partnership, the extra effort will pay off every time.
The first step in designing your partnership is to define your shared core values. What principles do you both hold above everything else?
The answer will form the core of your framework, and guide your decisions about what, when, how, and why things happen. When a solid framework is in place, you create a structure that will serve the organization and each individual involved in equal measure.
Prepare for conflict 🤬
Earlier, I discussed ways to reflect on conflict from external circumstances. But how can you prepare for a conflict that might arise between you and your partner?
For this, the Blueprint of We suggests coming up with a list of questions for Peace and Possibility. These are questions that both partners commit to answering with one another when things drift into a less-than-ideal place.
Some examples include:
- What do I need from you right now?
- Is it time to redefine or redirect our work together?
- How can we move from judgment to curiosity in order to get more clarity?
Come up with questions that are broad enough to apply to a variety of situations. Make a clear commitment to each other that, should it be necessary, you’ll both make time and space to answer them honestly.
Think about today, tomorrow, and beyond
It’s easy to get stuck in a single perspective.
Sometimes that means you’re too focused on the big picture. Other times it means getting bogged down by day-to-day operations.
Pay attention to the short-term obstacles as well as the long-term goals. Making powerful and impactful decisions together means ensuring that you are on the same page now and that you don’t drift apart over time.
When looking at the short term, the Blueprint of We puts a special emphasis on paying attention to your stress response over these time periods. Recognize that stress is not a problem; it’s a warning sign. If you have a knot in your stomach about your collaboration, reflect on why.
Spend time reflecting until you have a clear understanding of the root problem. Take your time, give it the proper attention, but don’t let it languish for too long. Depending on the situation, you might need four hours or you might need four days.
Once you have a good grasp of your stress trigger, you can go back and use the tools you developed in the previous steps.
If you created a list of Peace and Possibility questions, use it. Remember to respect and use the document, but it is not law.
In fact, you should update and change the document as needed. The document should always serve you in the best possible way at all times. If it feels inhibiting or restrictive, it’s likely time to update it.
If a grave situation causes major disruption or turmoil, it’s okay to step away. In these cases, agree on a long-term timetable to reflect and reconnect. Some issues can take more than days, weeks, or even months to reconcile and recover from.
A major disruption doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
Revisit the conversation
If there is one mistake I see over and over again, it’s a failure to do maintenance and upkeep.
Conversations like this one should happen regularly in your organization. Don’t think you’re done once you’ve gone through this process a single time. If you keep these things in mind as your business grows, you will foster a healthy, productive partnership.
Above all else, remember your business partner is just as human as you are. Your partner has their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations that are just as unique as yours.
How will you make your business partnership work? Let us know your plans for living happily ever after!