A co-worker and I have decided to start our own business together. How do we go from co-workers and friends to effective business partners?
Q: A co-worker and I have decided to start our own business together. How do we go from co-workers and friends to effective business partners?
A: Think through contingencies and anchor your interactions in mutual respect.
The inner game
A decision like this can trigger a lot of adrenaline and excitement; this can make it hard to think in a calm and practical way. Get centered, using your breath to ground yourself, as you prepare to think this through. As you and your partner talk through your plans, have this type of centering activity as part of every meeting agenda.
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Let’s start with the fun and easy part: What are the factors that led you to form your business together? In particular, what are the personal characteristics that you value in each other? Don’t be shy about owning your strengths, even as you acknowledge the other’s capabilities. Also notice if there are gaps in the skills that are needed to run a successful business so that you can make a plan to fill them.
Now, a bit more challenging: What are the characteristics that are harder to deal with? For example, your partner may be very different in terms of planning style, wanting to go with the flow more while you like every detail buttoned up.
How do each of you react under stress? How do you like to be acknowledged? What motivates you? If you don’t know the answers to these questions for each other — or for yourself — part of your process needs to include some deeper learning.
Think about your long-term professional vision, picturing your day to day working life, the people around you, the energy level, even the physical environment. Then identify critical factors that would cause you to decide that it isn’t working and that it’s time to make another change.
The outer game
Obviously, a lot of communication between you and your business partner is required in order to make this work. At the same time, you’ll be spending a lot of time on logistical matters that may involve accountants, attorneys, real estate agents, etc. Commit to dedicating time to “how” you want to be in the business and with each other, not just “what” you’re doing.
This is ongoing work, which will remain essential as your company grows. Have regular “state of the partnership” meetings, perhaps quick check-ins monthly with quarterly or semiannual deep dives.
Then, let’s face it, there are likely to be times that you just don’t really like each other. That’s when understanding each other and respect really come into play.
Identify other resources that can help you. Having mentors who have been down this path could help you anticipate challenges and, even if you can’t avoid them all, navigate them with more grace. Consider engaging a coach or facilitator to get you through the early stages.
Don’t let your business become your whole lives. Have other friends and tend to all the relationships in your lives. And celebrate your successes, noting the progress you’re making toward your shared business vision.
The last word
Incorporate both intelligence and kindness into making the successful transition to this new working relationship.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.