Thinking Like A Business Partner

“If two men agree on everything one of them is unnecessary.” - Henry Ford

 Advice about finding the right business partner almost always includes looking for someone with complementary skills. Especially in a start-up poised to grow rapidly, it seems smart to get partners with clearly distinct skills. But the truth is that a partnership can perform very well even when the partners do not have clearly defined complementary skills. In most cases a leader can hire someone with the skills they need. What partnerships have trouble surviving is a lack of complementary thinking styles.

Since research on business partners is sparse, we often adapt the comparably vast amounts of research on teams and leadership, and sometimes on marriage, to help business partners work well together. In an article published late last year in the Harvard Business Review, called “What Kind of Thinker are You?” Mark Boncheck and Elisa Steele looked at how teams think in terms of big-picture vs. detail-focus, as well as how team members approach process, ideas, actions and relationships. Their goal was to address the fact that “how teams think together,” rather than the roles they play, “most determines their performance.”

We have found this to be true in partnerships, as well. Understanding how business partners think is critical since so much of the value from a partnerships is getting a different perspective for better decisions and well-vetted ideas. There are mountains of data suggesting that the best decisions are reached through rigorous discussion and testing that comes from people who look at problems differently. An important element of this ability to debate issues well together is that it works best when decision-makers share some underlying core values. Without some aligned values partners may dismiss the divergent views that will help them come to the best decisions.

We look at how partners think by distilling a combination of:

  • How they behave
  • What drives them
  • How they relate to others

The psychometric testing we do for business partners is not meant to be provide a remedy for partnerships that are struggling or a checklist for those just starting out, but is an extremely useful tool. More than anything the results open a discussion among partners about what the results mean to them and to their partnership. These assessments can zero in on how much distinctiveness there is in how the partners think and how this will affect their decision-making as well as how they communicate.

Ensuring that you have complementary thinking is not as straight forward as assessing whether you have complementary skills in your partnership. Getting insights into the thinking process that will evolve as your business does is the kind of due diligence that exceptional leaders do in all other aspects of their business and just as critical. To see a sample of the assessment or take one for your partnership click here.

TAGS: Coaching, Merging


  • Form strong partnerships
  • Resolve partnership conflict
  • Reinforce your partnership dynamics

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