My experience says there are several reasons that business partnerships are like marriages:
1. When you stop talking, the partnership dies – even if it appears to be alive
Some issues are just hard to talk about. Something about my partner annoys me or vice versa. After a time, just for the sake of peace, we avoid those issues. And yet avoiding the issue is a form of despair; it’s essentially deciding the other “will never change.”
Then, over the years, the list builds up.
Here’s the problem: No discussion means no resolution - ever.
Ignoring a sensitive issue actually guarantees it will never be solved.
2. The bottom line is it’s 50% your fault, 50% your partner’s
The American way of dealing with issues is to assign blame.
Yet, no matter who is to blame, assigning blame in a partnership is a useless exercise because any problem that affects a business is by definition 50/50. Not 51/49 or 49/51.
Think about it: if my partner hates dealing with numbers, is it enough to say that’s her fault? Or is it better to instead take her issue on as if it’s my problem too. A friend said to me the other day, “it’s not my fault, but it’s still my problem.”
3. Regular meetings, with agendas, are essential to partner success
Partners can become too casual. People who see each other every day figure they’re talking to each other all the time. And they are. But too often the conversation is not about the important recurring issues. The result is often that big issues sneak up on the partners.
To avoid this, partners must have weekly dates with agendas that are closely tied to partnership and business goals.
4. Remember to watch for those who will try to divide and conquer you and your partner
Self-interest is in our human nature. So too is the “divide to conquer” gene. Ambitious employees often will pit you against your partner.
That situation creates danger for the partnership and for the business.
If you’ve had a teenager, or ever been a teenager, just remember when you heard the words, “But Dad, Mom said…”
5. Without stated exit plans, one or both partners will likely be disappointed in the end
Every great partnership includes an exit plan. Each partner needs to define what they want over time. Because of that, even my 32-year-old partner has written his exit from our business, which he plans to make 12 years from now.
6. If there are certain things you can’t really trust your partner for… you don’t have a partner
Don’t be afraid to have your business partnership facilitated by a professional moderator or coach. Let’s face it: partnerships, like marriages, take a lot of work.