Creating the perfect partnership takes understanding, significant effort and above all a sincere desire to make it work.
I’m proud to say that I’ve been married for a quarter of a century. A few of my business partnerships have lasted nearly as long. My right-hand man James Shehan and I have been working together for more than 16 years. I co-founded a business with Andrew Krauss 13 years ago.
I can tell you one thing: When it comes to these partnerships, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. But I’ve also learned what it means to see a relationship through, to nurture it and strive to improve it. The success of your business depends on your ability to forge and maintain productive partnerships. Use these tips to create meaningful, long-lasting partnerships.
1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses.
What are you good at? What do you do well? Your partner should complement you. If you focus on seeking out people who have different skill sets from yours, you’ll be stronger together than you are apart. Don’t be afraid to be dependent on your partner. In a good partnership, both people bring something equally important to the table.
2. Discuss your long-term goals upfront.
Are they similar? Are they compatible? You might disagree about how to get there, but you and your partner should share the same vision. The crucial question to answer is, will you both be able to achieve your goals by working together?
3. Define your roles explicitly.
You do not want to overlap in your efforts. Before you get started, carve out who is responsible for what. These roles may change over time. But they must be established up front to avoid conflict.
4. Communicate regularly.
This piece of advice seems obvious, but it’s so important. How do you communicate? How often? Is it working for both of you? Setting a reccurring time and date will help facilitate talking about any problems that arise – which inevitably will.
5. Remember that no one likes surprises.
When in doubt, get your partner’s approval.
6. Respect one another.
Like I said, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Don’t exploit or take advantage of your partner’s weaknesses just because you can. It’s not worth it.
Related: Richard Branson on the Value of Debate in Business Partnerships
7. Put things in writing.
Having an operating agreement in place will help define your mission.
8. Pick up the phone.
Using email to communicate about important issues is a surefire road to disaster. Tone and intention are too easily misinterpreted.
9. Take full responsibility for your actions.
10. If you make a mistake, admit it quickly.
The sooner you cop to an error, the more quickly you will both be able to move on. Your partner will appreciate not having to call you out.
11. Don’t let your discontent fester.
You will feel worse, not better. If you avoid airing your grievances, you will begin to blow things out of proportion. Get what you need to off your chest.
12. Define what small problems vs. big problems are.
Not everything is a big problem. In fact, most things aren’t. It helps to be reminded of that. When I’m overreacting, my partner is able to nudge me and ask, “Steve, is this a big problem or a small problem?”
13. Support one another.
If you find yourself secretly wishing your partner ill will, something has gone terribly wrong.
Partnerships are a never-ending work in progress. Don’t let issues that arise be swept under the rug. They always bubble to the surface anyway.