I once heard author Dave Ramsey say, “a partnership is the only kind of ship that doesn’t sail.” Can you relate to that statement? I have been and am a part of several business partnerships that are sailing quite well, but I’ve also seen partnerships sink like the Titanic. It got me thinking and asking myself, “what makes a partnership sail?” Here’s my short list; I’d love your thoughts on my list and any additions you may have from your experience.

Respect

Not that I did not write “friendship.” It’s great to have a business partnership with a friend, but it’s more important that there is mutual respect – respect for what each person brings to the table, respect for the weaknesses and blindspots of the other as well. When a business partner feels disrespected by the other partner, the ship starts taking on water.

Humility

Here’s the thing: none of us is perfect. We all have weaknesses and blindspots. We all need to continue to learn and grow. Can you learn from your business partner? Can you concede that she can do some things better than you? Do you struggle with sharing the #1 position?
I suspect this is the core issue Dave Ramsey was hitting on. Ships have one captain; when the sea gets rocky, there is only one person calling the shots. Many partnerships are 50/50 – two captains, in essence. How do you agree on who makes what decisions under what circumstances? When do you have time for a consensus decision, and when do you need to exercise humility and allow your partner to make the call when you both know that he is the right one to make it?

A Comprehensive Operating Agreement

One way to answer some of the questions I just posed is to ensure you have created (with a lawyer) a great, comprehensive operating agreement. A good business attorney has seen and can anticipate all of the ways partnerships can go sideways. Let an attorney help you anticipate the worst case scenarios and force you to think about the unforeseen before it happens. How much freedom should each partner have when it comes to spending, hiring, taking on debt? What happens when one partner is not following through on his or her commitments. Are there specific roles for each partner in the company where one has purview over the other? For example, in one of my partnerships, I handle the books & finances and talk to the accountant. In another of my partnerships, my partner is an accountant. Obviously, he handles the taxes in our partnership.

Shared Values

If partners have similar worldviews with many common values, it should be easier to work through the inevitable conflict that will come. Those values include work-related values (e.g. work ethic, work-life balance, how the the business should be run) as well as personal values (e.g. family, faith, causes, etc.). Partnerships need alignment from vision all the way down through the daily operations. Values affect actions at every level of a business.
If you are in, or are considering entering into a partnership, I hope you find this list helpful. It’s a list that has my partnerships sailing quite well – not that there aren’t storms, because there always are. It’s just that we know how to navigate them and keep the ship pointed towards the shared desired destination.
By the way, I know this blog post is a bit off-topic for Sales Conservatory, but I’m pretty sure there are some ideas in it that apply to prospects, clients, and co-workers, as well.