By Dorene Lehavi
He said his name was Craig and he sounded very distraught because his business partners were having a meltdown. After 12 years of getting along well in a successful business, they were blindsided when they lost their biggest client. Worse was that the 4 of them, usually friends, were blaming each other, getting into yelling matches and behaving in ways that until now had been totally foreign to this “ideal partnership”. Could I rescue them?
I spent a day onsite, interviewing each separately and in the afternoon brought them together as a team. Each shared with me and later with each other their complaints, concerns and resentments towards the other partners that they had kept hidden all these years. There was a basic trust and respect among them, but small wounds and annoyances over the years had been festering. As a result, little by little they had avoided regular meetings to discuss anything. Losing their biggest client was the last straw that had made it impossible to keep quiet anymore.
The client had fallen through the cracks with no one noticing the signs that he might be leaving. Who was responsible? No one thought it was their fault and with great conviction blamed the others.
One of the perks of having partners is that work gets divided based on each partner’s complementary strengths. It is great to be able to take advantage of someone else’s creativity, knowledge, and skills. It’s a relief to have someone else work in an area that you don’t enjoy, but too often partners take that to mean they don’t have to know anything about the other areas especially when they trust each other’s abilities and work ethic. It is a huge mistake to take such an attitude.
This is what Tom, Craig, Lenny and Ray (not their real names) had done. Each of them had their own area of expertise for which they were responsible: finance and IT, marketing, inventory and fulfillment, and customer and employee relations. They had over 40 employees divided among their departments.
All partners need to be “in the know” about all areas of the business – including project statuses, milestones, key vendors, coordination of teams and budgets, etc. This has nothing to do with whether or not you trust your partner’s expertise. Too often, I have seen business partners discover that they don’t know the first thing about the company’s marketing strategy, hiring processes, even cash flow because it’s the “responsibility” of another partner. They don’t find out until something catastrophic happens.
Not only is everyone responsible to know about all of the areas in their business, but without coordination and discussion between the departments, the business cannot function optimally. And the bottom line, even with the big client onboard, was not as robust as it could be. All partners are responsible to know what is happening in all departments, actively evaluating, brainstorming, and making decisions that affect the whole.
My rescue plan successfully concluded with their reinstating regularly scheduled meetings where open communication would prevail. Annoyances, misunderstandings and disagreements would be brought up when they occurred to prevent the festering that leads to disastrous results.
In order for the business to thrive, each partner committed to be responsible for the big picture in addition to their particular area of responsibility. Blaming others was no longer an acceptable part of their culture.
Share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.
Dorene Lehavi, Ph.D., transitioned her practice as a therapist to coaching, where she has over 20 years of experience as the recognized expert in business partnership relationships. She earned her doctorate at University of Southern California and MSW at Hunter College, NYC. Her mission is to reverse the statistic that most partnerships fail to most succeed. Dr. Lehavi is the creator of unique success oriented DIY tools such as the popular Business Partnership Agreement Templates. Learn more by visiting www.bizpartnerpro.com.