Don’t worry I’ve not gone all Spice Girls on you. And I’m not referring to the big news of the week when social distancing meant one metre rather than two.

But instead it’s that fateful day that happens in most business partnerships when the relationship has broken down to the extent that one partner has to leave. Hopefully by mutual consent!

Sometimes it happens quickly. There are thousands of businesses out there with two names or initials in their trading name even though one of the two left sometime in the first couple of years.

But what are the root causes of partnerships failing?

In last week’s article, I talked about the Techies, Haymakers, Organizers, Claustrophobes, Introverts, Outsiders and All-rounders. Without reading that article, I suspect this one won’t make sense.

A two-person partnership will encompass different combinations of those personalities.

It’s probably beyond the scope of this article (and my maths skills!) to talk about all the variations that will or won’t work but I’ll focus on a few.

First of all, a combination of Techies, Haymaker and Organizer will fail because one basic component will be missing each time.

The only way that will work is in a three-person partnership with one of each. The only problem there is that as someone who works in social care told me that every three-way relationship will usually fall into conflict with one party becoming perpetrator, one victim and the other peacemaker. All one child families will be familiar with this scenario!

The other problem is that each of the three parties will usually over-value their own contribution.

But if well-managed, with maybe a good external adviser / facilitator (referee maybe?) to help everyone keep perspective and see the bigger picture, these can work.

Two All-rounders in partnership will also fail. Whilst everything is covered, a power struggle is likely to arise and ultimately one party will end up being the main decision-maker feeling aggrieved that they have taken on the main responsibilities but the other still gets 50% and the other feeling aggrieved about their diminished role and status.

Examples of combinations that work would be:

  • The Outsider and the Techie
  • The Introvert and the Haymaker
  • The Claustrophobe and the Organizer

Of course, in each of these relationships the first party in each of the three situations above is bringing more to the party and the partnership agreement should reflect this. If it doesn’t, then they will likely build up resentment of the unequal contribution whilst the other party will be blissfully unaware of the disparity.

These partnerships work in the short-term but rarely stand the test of time.

Perhaps the best relationship is between an Introvert and a Claustrophobe. Both will have worked in the industry and understand it implicitly. Discussions between them will therefore have the foundation of that industry knowledge.

But beyond that the Claustrophobe has the responsibility for looking outwards and doing whatever needs to be done to generate new revenue whilst the Introvert can get on with making sure that the work generated turns into profit.

As long as both respect each other’s separate roles and can have open and honest discussions, that split of one looking outwards and one looking inwards can work really well.

Of course, many partnerships involve families where it can get even more complicated.

Many partnerships between spouses work well because one is the Claustrophobe and their partner or spouse joins the business and becomes the Organizer. Everything is covered and as the profits all end up in the same pot anyway, there are no arguments about remuneration.

The best example of clear division of roles was in a construction company I worked with when I was recently qualified.

We’ll call them Pam and Len (not their real names). Pam (The Organizer) explained to me that inside the office she was in charge and anything which took place outside the office was where Len (The Claustrophobe) was in charge. She pointed to the threshold of the external door and said “when he comes in here, he takes his boots off”. The was definitely a slightly menacing tone to her voice as she said it!

There are tens of thousands of businesses that work really well in this way.

But if the Claustrophobe and the Organizer are siblings it can get messy. One business we worked with basically ceased to function because one sibling took every work request personally and the other couldn’t resist settling old scores on a regular basis. Sometimes there’s too much history and too many things going on outside the business for it to work.

Alternatively, the fact that everyone is part of the same family and all want the best for each other means they find a way to pull in the same direction. It depends on the family and the people I guess.

Whatever types of personalities you have, it’s critical that you have a proper discussion with a professional who can help you agree the way that things will work. In an ideal world, this will be on day one. You’ll talk through your individual responsibilities and then embed them into some kind of partnership agreement.

Or if you feel you’ve lost your way, a strategic planning day, morning or even hour can get some of these issues out into the open.

Next week, I’ll be moving on to the third of the ten vital ingredients, avoiding over-dependence on specific individuals and I’ll be asking the question: Are you an Elton or a Ronald?

Have a good weekend.

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Malcolm Palmer


Managing Partner

01474 853856

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