Learning From Partnership Failures

"The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." - Henry Ford

We all hope to learn from our mistakes, so we found it a little surprising when our recent survey of about 150 business partners revealed a troubling trend. Only 38% of those who had been in a previous partnership that “ended badly” report having worked with their current partner prior to joining forces. This is slightly lower than for those in first partnerships.

Working together before taking the leap into a partnership is one of the most important steps that prospective partners can take. Here is a reminder of the top three things that potential partners should do to prevent being part of the grim 70% failure rate for business partnerships:

1. Work together first.

We cannot stress this enough. Experience tells us that nothing helps to build the critical trust and respect for your partner, and them for you, than working together before becoming partners.  Seeing how your potential partner solves problems builds confidence for the inevitable tough times that your business will face.  Conversely, partnerships based on professional acquaintance or personal relationships have a much harder time when problems arise.

2. Get a formal assessment of your partnership dynamics.

Such assessments (DISC, Talent Analytics, for example) are relatively inexpensive and can provide important insights into your compatibility as partners.  We have found that exceptional partners engage in formal assessments much more often than those who are in less-successful partnerships.

When a business partnership ends badly it is often due to unpleasant surprises about the actions or attitudes of a partner.  Having formal assessments raises awareness about the behavior of partners and how close (or not) the partners’ core values are.  These are things that often surface after the “honeymoon” period and can cause havoc in a partnership.

3. Make effective communication a priority.

Even when partners recognize that a communication breakdown was a factor in a past failed partnership, often they do not take steps to make sure it does not happen again in a new partnership.  Good communication seems like something that should just happen with people who have a shared vision, but it doesn’t. The assessments (see #2!) can provide information about the most effective ways to communicate with each other and help devise a good communication plan.

In 1791, English poet Samuel Johnson referred to second marriages as “the triumph of hope over experience.”  Unfortunately, second marriages have a lower success rate than first marriages, but we can do better in second business partnerships, if we learn from our mistakes.

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TAGS: Partnerships, Coaching, Co-founders


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