We’ve worked with many successful partners who attribute some of the strength in their partnership to time spent in social activities as they got to know each other: golfing, biking, weekend travel with spouses. Yet we continue to see partners seeking mediation who had terrific social relationships but have profound problems in their business partnership.
New research by Noam Wasserman at Harvard Business School, as well as internal research done at Google, shows that having strong social bonds is not a predictor of how well work teams perform. In research focused specifically on entrepreneurial partnerships, those formed based on social ties scored lowest in partnership stability.
It’s true that spending time in a social situation with those you do not know well can help you see red flags about how they might behave in work situations, but nothing replaces actually working together for predicting strong long-term partnerships. In fact, the strong social compatibility you have with friends and family may be counterproductive when it comes to forming a partnership. The Harvard team found that the hierarchy of relationships that form the most stable partnerships is:
- Work relationships
- Families/ friends
Of course, this is the opposite of the order that many people seek their business partners. It is natural to look first to family and friends, people you are already comfortable with and have some level of trust. Unfortunately this often means there are preconceived notions about how work relationships will play out that are not tested, or even very deeply discussed, before launching the business.
This may also be why partnership among strangers and acquaintances have greater stability. Online services like CoFoundersLab make it easier to find strangers who fit the business needs of your company. These types of pairings can lead to more due diligence in testing the partnership fit since there are fewer assumptions and no pre-existing relationship to worry about damaging by having open and thorough conversations about expectations.
If you want to do something fun outside of the office to test or strengthen your partnership the most beneficial bonding is trying something that is new for everyone. There is neuroscience research showing that these types of activities activate different parts of your brain and help you look at even very familiar things (and people) in new ways.
While it is never a bad idea to spend quality time with a partner or prospective partner outside of the office, enjoying golf, biking, skiing or any fun experience together, it’s important to know that even if you get along brilliantly while doing so, it may not translate to success in your partnership.