The Sharpening Stone – How Healthy is Your Business Partnership

We all know someone who’s been through a painful divorce or lives with a horrible marriage.  Maybe you’ve faced that yourself.  Couples generally don’t go into a marriage anticipating or preparing for the variety of challenges they’re likely to face.  And sadly, by the time many couples reach out for help, the marriage is all but over.

We see the same thing in business partnerships.  What typically begins with excitement and optimistic visions of perpetual harmony can erode over time, as the day-to-day strains of building and sustaining a successful business eventually take their toll. Our team is often called upon by business partners whose relationship is in crisis.  We’re usually able to help get things back on track, but that healing process can be painful and difficult for a time, before new and healthier interactional patterns take hold.  And sometimes, there’s just so much water under the bridge that the relationship cannot be salvaged, and our best option is to aim for an amicable separation that minimizes collateral damage.

Keeping a business relationship strong is a lot like keeping a marriage strong. The relationship itself requires constant care and attention and productive communication habits if you want it to last.  And when you have multiple business partners, the relational dynamic can become even more complicated and challenging.

So, I have three simple recommendations for those of you who own or lead an enterprise with one or more other individuals:

First, at whatever stage you are at in your business relationship – even if you’re just now contemplating entering into one — commit to meeting routinely with your business partners.  At least monthly – not just for the requisite annual shareholders meeting, or when there’s a crisis.

Secondly, in addition to covering matters of business performance, your agendas should invariably include the question, “Are there any tension points between us, big or small, that warrant discussion?”  Place that item toward the beginning of the meeting rather than at the end, so you can be sure to devote the necessary time to get through the problem rather than merely ripping off a band-aid.

And finally, if you get stuck, reach out for help from a competent third party before things get so bad that you dread showing up for work.

You may feel too busy with the daily demands of your business to spend time “working on the relationship,” especially if things are generally going well at the moment.  But those who neglect relational work or resist seeking outside help until there’s a crisis tend to fare worse than those who “work the relationship” steadily.

About the Author: Rob Skacel, Ph.D.

Rob is a licensed psychologist with senior executive experience. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College, and Master’s and Doctoral degrees from Purdue University. Rob began his career in the field of clinical psychology, splitting his time between patient care and management responsibilities. Within a few years, he began the transition to business psychology specialization. He has since held senior leadership positions in sizeable for-profit and non-profit organizations, where his responsibilities focused on performance improvement and organizational development.

Rob founded True Edge Performance Solutions in 2000, and maintained it as a part-time venture for a number of years as he continued to accrue executive experience. By 2006, True Edge had grown to the point where it required Rob’s full-time attention. Over the years, Rob has provided services to dozens of leaders and their organizations, in a variety of industry sectors such as manufacturing, professional services, health care, agribusiness, construction, education, non-profit, and trade associations.

The Sharpening Stone

The Sharpening Stone is a series of short videos from True Edge designed to sharpen leaders and their organizations.

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