In working with our clients to build strong partnerships, we look closely at 4 critical areas that successful partnerships share. These factors lead to better decision-making and clearer progress toward firm objectives, and much more satisfied partners. If missing, partnerships will fail to fully leverage the benefits of their joint efforts. At worst, it can mean the acrimonious dissolution of the partnership and the business.
Committed partners recognize that they are better together than apart. Commitment combines trust, engagement, optimism and obligation, to each other and to the clients, staff and others who depend on them. The need for strong commitment to get through tough times may be one reason business partnerships are so often compared to marriages.
Partnership compatibility includes the common idea of complementary skills, but there is much more. We like to invoke the social science term “optimally distinctive,” meaning that partnerships really thrive when members are alike enough to feel a connectedness but each also provides something unique to the group. This can take many forms but understanding and identification of the unifying and distinctive forces is important.
Henry Ford is quoted as saying “if two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” But differing views must be handled by engaging in “constructive conflict.” This is essential for successful decision-making and involves a level of openness and confidence that needs to be actively fostered. It presumes that partners trust and respect each other, which happens through deliberate ongoing communication. If there are hidden motivations, unexpressed expectations or inability to speak openly, contentious conversations can quickly become personal and very destructive.
Partnership collaboration is a function of being clear about what each partner is contributing. As one advisor put it, “is what the others are bringing something you value as highly as your own skills?” If not, you will not value their input enough to work collaboratively. It is critical for partners to be explicit about the particular strengths that each is providing. They must have a well-aligned view of their roles in the partnership in order to make their shared vision of the firm a reality.
Trying to incorporate these elements on an ongoing basis is a balancing act, but it needs to be a priority. Successful partners show a clear awareness of the need to address these components effectively and on an ongoing basis.