Team sports prepare boys for the corporate model of business. Girls, however, typically play closely with one or two friends. What great preparation for entrepreneurial partnership! So it is fitting, as women continue to start businesses in record numbers, that many are finding partnership is a comfortable format. In fact, business partnership works for women coming from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences including those tired of hitting the corporate glass ceiling, stay-at-home Moms, and women who want to turn their passions and their social connections into business ideas.
Partnership brings a wide variety of benefits including a sense of connection and someone to cover when you go on vacation. On the other hand, many partnerships end in crisis and conflict. To avoid partnership failure, your partnership needs to possess the following seven components of positive partnership.
Shared Values. Partners need a sense of shared standards regarding what is desirable, undesirable, good, and bad. These values will guide partners’ actions, judgments, and choices. Values, which often carry considerable emotion, may range from valuing family, prosperity, ambition, a work ethic, or a political persuasion. In addition to helping partners make congruent decisions, shared values serve to keep partners united.
Different (Complementary) Skills and Traits. Successful partners will possess different (complementary) skills and traits. The broader the partners’ range of skills, the clearer the division of their labor (and power) can be. It may be easy to distinguish the marketing person from the technical person in a business but other necessary variables are often not as easy to see. Michael Gerber’s classic book “The E-Myth” explains that a business owner needs to play three roles, Entrepreneur – the creative visionary; Manager, the administrator who brings planning, order and predictability; and Technician – the craftsperson. Partnerships have a distinct advantage in that two or more invested people are available to perform the three necessary roles.
Sense of Equity. Equity occurs when the rewards of a relationship are proportional to what each side perceives as his or her contribution. Strangers and casual acquaintances maintain equity by keeping track of the benefits they exchange. However, in long-term and more committed relationships it is not healthy to keep track. Instead, a sense of equity should be established. A perception of inequity (I am giving more then I get) takes a tremendous toll on a partnership.
Growing Together. From the moment we are born until the day we die, we are in the process of growing and changing. Partners and their partnerships are continuously undergoing this process of change. However, we are often not aware of the changes we’re experiencing. And, sometimes change is viewed as a threat to the status quo. Successful partners embrace change and growth, knowing that this attitude benefits both their individual and shared professional identities.
Proactive Conflict Management Strategies. Competing and avoiding are not effective conflict management strategies for partnership. Instead, successful partners will use proactive and strategic approaches to conflict management such as accommodation, compromise and collaboration to resolve their differences.
Shared Vision. Partners need a shared vision or plan for the future. Vision is what determines and expresses where an organization wants to go and how it intends to get there. A shared vision allows partners to focus on their goals and the methods they will use to achieve those goals. When partners hold different visions they become discouraged, overwhelmed, and disconnected. In order to create and effectively benefit from a shared vision, four tasks are necessary: creating the initial vision, translating that vision into the necessary physical actions, articulating and selling the vision to others, and holding true to the essence of the vision when reality changes the plans.
An Exit Strategy. It has been said that a graceful exit is proof of a successful venture. Without an exit strategy in place partners can be faced with making crucial decisions at a time when they were least levelheaded. An exit strategy is a shared sense of when and how an alliance will end and one should be included as the end-point in a business plan. However, while planning for the end may be a critical aspect of owning a business, it is also one of the most neglected. Exits are easy to avoid when the issue is not pressing and raising the issue might sour the deal or suggest a lack of trust. Four questions should be addressed when considering an exit plan: what events might trigger an end to the partnership; how will the business be valued at the end; which options for future ownership are acceptable; and what post-alliance ties and restrictions, such as non-compete clauses, need to be included.
When you enter into a partnership that is strong in these seven components you have the potential to create synergy and reap some amazing benefits. True synergy comes about when two (or more) people work together to create results that would have been unobtainable independently. In a synergistic partnership 2+2>4 and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.