Successful partnerships

Successful partnerships

An Entrepreneur asks:

In some start-ups, some partners may be working part-time and some full-time. How can we create a healthy partnership when everyone’s time and commitment may be different? Are there things you should discuss at the beginning of the partnership? What must be done if it becomes apparent later that the time or commitment promised by an individual in the beginning did not materialise when the company starts running? What bonds can keep a partnership together?

MentorSquare: These are good questions and perhaps ones which every partnership at some point or the other will have to face. Here are some suggestions:

Commitment: When a group of people get together to launch a business, it is not important for all to be equal owners in the business. Some will be plain investors, some will be juniors in terms of past experience and some may at the outset commit to work only part-time. To the extent you can, you need to nail this down.

Chances are, say, four people got together on some sharing of ownership of the company. It is an important tenet that whatever a person owns, he or she must be willing to put in 100 per cent - meaning whatever it takes to get the business off the ground.

Talk and talk often: Communication is probably the single most important thing after commitment. Sometimes, it is better to over-communicate. Agree to disagree, but at the end of the day, somebody has to draw the line and you have to get on with the project.
If people are not pulling their weight, you must bring it to their notice with enough data to show why this perception exists, and what may be the way out of this. Good quality and inoffensive communication can help immensely. This is true especially when you highlight how negligence in one area is holding up the work and preventing the team from working towards its potential.

Leadership: It is good to know the ‘Five Dysfunctions’ of any team - absence of trust, fear of conflict, avoidance of accountability, inattention to results and lack of commitment. It is easy to get people accept these upfront. It needs leadership to be able to stay the course. For effective execution there almost always has to be one person who will take the final call. Of course, in collaborative organisations such decisions will mainly emerge by consensus but nonetheless a CEO is critical and should be one well accepted by all.

The CEO will create a team, take decisions and pull up those who do not perform. After much healthy debate and discussion he or she will still have the final say in key decisions.

Maintaining ties: There are several ways to glue the team together. A shared goal should transcend money, otherwise it will be difficult to motivate the team when the chips appear to be down. A grand vision and the potential to realise it might be a stronger incentive than just money. Having said this, Benjamin Franklin’s quote may be instructive: “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Letting go: Finally, there may be reasons why a partnership may stop working a few years down the line. If some of the ‘Five Dysfunctions’ have been addressed earlier, you reduce the risk of this happening. But if it does happen, again, look at the areas of disagreement and if you feel that the chasm is unbridgeable, let go.

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