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Is your partnership built on a strong foundation?

There’ve been many examples of business partnerships that have paid incredible dividends. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and Paul Allen … these are among the most famous business partnerships in recent memory. Each one brought something to the table that the other person needed.

5 tips for building a strong, reliable relationship with your business partner

But there are just as many examples of partnerships that have fallen apart due to personal relationship issues. Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg were once partners on Facebook, but personal disputes led to a complete dissolution of the relationship.

They’re only the latest of many partnerships to dissolve. What does it take to build a relationship that stands the test of time and makes your business thrive, as opposed to taking away from it?

1. Communication

This is one of the biggest issues that can tear a partnership apart.

Just like any marriage or romantic relationship, making sure that you’re on the same page is absolutely key to a healthy and happy coexistence. Ask anyone who’s had a long marriage and they’ll tell you: you have to make time for each other.

In business, it sets the foundation that determines how well you’ll do over the long haul.

In fact, Mark Moses, founding partner and CEO of CEO Coaching International, went as far as noting this in one of his more recent blog posts, saying, “Even if you’re both showing up to the same weekly meetings, digesting the same numbers, and working towards the same goals, the two of you need to schedule time to talk alone, face-to-face, to discuss the state of the company.”

Continues Moses, “You need to make sure you’re both hearing each other’s ideas, receptive to frustrations, and united in the ultimate vision that brought you two together in the first place … When business partners reach a point where they can’t have these kinds of honest conversations, they have two choices: dissolve the partnership, or get with a coach who can help reopen the lines of communication. Don’t let your pride get in the way of resolvable conflicts.”

There’s nothing more important than keeping your lines of communication open in your partnership. Everything hinges on proper leadership, and if your partnership isn’t in tune, that will flow downhill. Make sure you make time for each other.

2. Clarity of vision

What’s most important to you? What’s most important to your partner?

If they don’t line up, you’re probably going to have trouble.

Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computer, eventually left Apple to go back to things that he cared about more. He was more concerned with technology education and his electronic products than the other parts of the business that Jobs handled, and eventually went back to what he liked.

Other founders have had much rockier breakups than the Woz/Jobs partnership, which remained amicable. Zuckerberg and Saverin’s story is one of the worst of the recent ones, ending in lawsuits and mutual dislike.

If the two of you have conflicting goals for the company, it’s not going to work out. That’s where bringing in a coach to facilitate discussion might help, and one or the other might have to leave to start their own venture if it’s bad enough.

Make sure it doesn’t get there.

3. Division of labor

As your company grows, it can be common for partnerships to start to overlap.

If you’re both covering the same areas, it can cause conflicts and make it harder for employees to know who to turn to for guidance and direction. That’s where you two have to have a conversation about what the best division of labor is.

Make sure you’re not stepping on each other’s toes. Maybe one of you is more business-minded and the other’s more in-tune with the actual product. That can mean that the first partner steps into the CEO role, while the other partner is in a different role heading up a segment of the company. Or it might be something where the partnership just doesn’t work the same any more, meaning one partner has to step back or get a buyout.

Whatever the case, you have to have clearly defined roles for each of you so you don’t cover the same ground or make it unclear where direction is coming from.

4. Equal commitment

One of the biggest reasons the Saverin/Zuckerberg partnership split up was a lack of similar commitment from both founders—Zuckerberg felt that Saverin was not pulling his share of the weight.

If you and your partner aren’t pulling the same weight, it’s often an indicator of bad work-life balance or a business that’s no longer a fit for the direction your partner wants to go.

Just like any other part of your partnership, you need to have a discussion about where the company should go, and make sure you have enough time away from the company to stay charged up and ready for the challenges ahead.

5. Trust

Trust between partners is key.

Do you trust your partner to do the right thing—not just the right thing for the business, but the right thing in general? Are you on the same page?

If you don’t have trust in each other, how will your employees, customers or clients have trust in you? With any shared venture that has this much liability that falls on both sets of shoulders, you need to have absolute faith in each other. Make sure you’re communicating that with each other and constantly building that trust.

No matter what your business, building a strong partnership with any business partner is key to your future success. Stay in tune with each other to make sure you’re able to succeed.


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