Have you ever had a business partnership go wrong? Something that started out with deep enthusiasm between you and another person or a group of people, yet it somehow slithered into fractious conversations, different views and conflict? Creating and maintaining successful collaborations, whether these are business or other areas of life requires constant work. It also often involves lawyers, which can quickly take the humanity and human frailties out of consideration. I’ve been examining alternative ways and tools to help develop successful collaborative partnerships that takes into account the very human qualities we all have.
They say people only really argue about sex or money, and that may be true. But in my experience, most disagreements that arise in business partnerships come about because people are human and therefore flawed. We all are. We often don’t take enough time to think through the long-term implications of being in business with someone else in the excitement of realising you have a great new business concept, and also of course, we change. It’s also common to find that people don’t set out clearly what their trigger points are in times of tension and pressure, and don’t put in place ways of dealing with each other’s little foibles. Setting out clear boundaries and the framework for a collaborative partnership with someone is essential if you are to find ways to navigate the choppy waters when the pressure hits.
Here are three simple tools I have used myself and in work with startups and mentees during the past few years.
The Blueprint of We
My first valuable recommendation is The BluePrint of We. I discovered that a couple of years ago when it was in its infancy and completely free. Today there is a small fee of around $69 to download the detailed templates and guidelines. It’s a great deal compared to legal fees.
The Blueprint of We allows people getting into business together (or marriage, or any other kind of partnership) to custom design healthier, more resilient business and personal relationships. It aims to give you the power to mindfully create your life and work, rather than squeezing into pre-established relationship models.
It has 5 stages:
- The Story of Us which captures what has drawn the individuals together in the first place
- Interaction Styles, Warning Signals: which helps you share how you work best and what the visible and invisible signs of you becoming stressed or frustrated might be
- Custom Design: which helps you mindfully design the framework for your collaboration
- 4 Questions for Peace & Possibility: a great way to provide a route back to peaceable equanimity when disagreements have occurred
- Short & Long Term Agreements which capture the timeframes for coming back to agreements.
You personally write the document along with those involved, whether 2 people or 20,000+. As an on-going collaborative process, it is design to wire your brain for more connection and compassion and enables groups of all sizes to continually find clarity. It is often being used to replace or enhance traditional legal contracts.
2. The Due Diligence of Me
If you’re anything like me, your enthusiasm for people and projects can occasionally cause you to get carried away. I never want to operate in the world as a person without trust but we must recognise that not all people in the world operate on that basis. So we have to develop a way to be respectful to ourselves, our knowledge and our passion. This is true whether you are going into a business partnership, are an angel investor or service provider.
The Due Diligence of Me is a very simple document that I designed for myself with the help of my coach but it does require a reasonable amount of self-awareness to complete, and for it to be useful.
- Take a piece of A4 paper and divide it into two columns.
- One represents you as an emotional individual, the other represents you as a legal entity.
- Into each column write the questions you need to have asked to ensure you have done your own personal form of due diligence before you make your commitment.
The personal set of questions may be harder to do. You have to be aware of your weaknesses. Think of a few times when you’ve looked back and wished you had done ‘X’ before committing to a collaboration. If that particular situation crops up regularly in your history, this is an area of weakness for you. Because I give trust relatively easily, one of the important questions in my Individual column is “Have I spoken to other people I know in common and whose opinion I value and trust, who are people who show high integrity?” I have a list of people who I always consult.
Given the prevalence of social media in our lives these days one of the other questions I have in this column is “How did I meet this person? Have I been introduced by a person I could trust or has this been a random networking or social media connection?” It’s all too easy today to think you have a considered relationship with someone online. There are many predators out there who know and understand how to create a convincing digital presence.
One of the things we all have to train ourselves to do in this hyper-rational world is to listen to our gut instincts. How many times have you felt that awkward niggle and yet used marvellous rational arguments to persuade yourself you should proceed? If that’s you, then a question like “Has my gut kicked off a warning at any time? If it has, don’t ignore it.
Your questions in the Legal Entity column may be the same. But you will be considering them with a different mindset, a legal mindset. My column for example, ensures I have done what most lawyers would consider proper due diligence and checked out the Directors and organisation at Companies House, scanned online for any history of problems or conflicts.
3. Open Conversation (Facilitation)
I always advise my startup mentees to schedule regular open conversations with their business partners. These should ideally be once a week. They are short and to the point where anyone raises any concerns they have and an open discussion takes place. It requires the commitment of all parties to come to the meeting with an open mind, heart and will – which takes practice.
It’s worth starting with a check-in, or even a short period of meditation to ensure everyone is grounded and centred when they begin to speak. Each person speaks their concern whilst the others listen and make notes if they need. Before anyone responds, a 1-2 minute meditation period is held so that each person can reflect on what they have heard before reacting.
The regularity with which it happens is important. It’s something you can tack onto the start of other regular meetings. Irritations, worries and niggles fester if left. Scheduling a regular 15 minute open conversation means there will always be an opportunity to express little concerns before they become big ones. If there aren’t any, it’s a great time for open celebrations instead!
I put facilitation in brackets in the title because it sometimes worth having an independent facilitator who has experience in working with collaborations or partnerships to attend the meetings until you get into the habit of working with an open heart, mind and will. Many transformational coaches who have used Theory U are adept at this work.
Of course we all hope that when we set sail on a new business adventure or collaboration that nothing will go wrong. We are buoyed with our positive, enthusiastic entrepreneurial natures. But we also have to live in the real world where the incredible pressures of being in a startup can take their toll. So it’s worth putting a small amount of time aside at the start to have a human approach to how you will deal with life if the proverbial hits the fan.
Cautionary Note: I am by no means recommending that you do without legal advice, contracts or agreements. What we are trying to achieve is a supplementary approach which recognises our humanity and our human frailties.