Does your partnership pass the test?

Great partnerships can accelerate business growth. Good partnerships can incrementally help businesses achieve some lift. And bad partnerships can drain significant resources and energy.While many businesses focus on the legal aspects of forming partnerships, it is also necessary to have frank conversations about some of the softer skills necessary to developing, retaining and leveraging partner relationships. As you explore partnership opportunities, here are some questions for your team and potential partner.Values:• How do we evaluate a successful partnership? How does our potential partner evaluate the same?• What are some examples of successful partnerships that we have had in the past? Why?• Is there a values alignment?• What are some concrete ways that the alignment manifests itself?• Do all the core members on our team see and agree with the examples?Shared Purpose:• Given that there is an assumption that the partnership is beneficial to both parties, is the desired outcome equally valuable to both organizations?• If there is an imbalance in how important the outcome is, how does that impact the sense of urgency on decision-making and actual performance of individual parties?• Are there clear expectations on what the responsibilities of both parties are?• Are there clear expectations on what is a “win” for each party?Production Ethic:• Is there a shared work ethic? How do we know?• Is there a smaller project that we can road test before making a longer term commitment?• What are the milestones and checkpoints along the way?Conflict:• How does their team (and ours) deal with internal conflict?• How do we interact when conflict or awkwardness arises between the two teams?• Can we explicitly contract for how we put conflict on the table and move on assuming that everyone recognizes that ignoring conflict does not mean it goes away?Communication:• Are we operating with the same lexicon? Do we have a common understanding of phrases such as “short time frame” or “business opportunity?”• Where do we need to be more explicit so that there are no misunderstandings?• How are the communications channels — open, selectively open, closed unless one party requires something?• What are the preferred methods for staying in contact?• What happens when one side goes silent during the formation stage?• How is it perceived or dealt with when joint decisions need to be made?How to renegotiateIf you are already in a partnership that is not evolving the way you anticipated, it may be time to renegotiate the relationship. Here are some steps that you can take:• Assess with your team whether the partnership still has potential that is worth the additional investment of time and resources. If not, respect the partnership by formally closing the door, even if there is no legal requirement to do so. While the conversation may be a bit awkward, it eliminates greater awkwardness down the road.• If the partnership still has perceived value, initiate a meeting with your partner. Given that 55 percent of communication is through body language, face-to-face is preferable, if at all possible.• Begin with and confirm the premise that both parties still want and are committed to the partnership being a win-win.• Clearly articulate your concerns using “I” statements — using “you” statements puts the other party on the defensive and is often counterproductive to your ultimate goal of creating a workable situation. One example is to say, “I am concerned that we are operating with a different sense of urgency with XYZ deliverable.”• Come from a point of curiosity. The more you understand, the better you can address the situation. “How do you feel about the pace of how we are achieving this milestone?”• Be ready — and receptive — to feedback from the other party. They may have their own frustrations or concerns. Before responding to the frustration, make sure that you can empathize with their situation to the point that they feel understood.• Come prepared with your concerns — and also specific things that would help. “It would really help me if we could touch base weekly at a specific time to mark progress. Another thing that would help is to know proactively if you might miss an agreed upon deadline. I can then prepare my team to adjust our production schedule.”• Ask your partner about specific things that would help him or her.• Capture your understanding in e-mail, to give both parties a chance to confirm their agreement.• Establish clear checkpoints and follow-up with each other.Toral D. Cowieson, founder of SISUTEK, a market due-diligence and product strategy firm based on the Seacoast, can be reached at 603-828-1633