Lately, I have been asked to coach a variety of business partnerships that are experiencing a transition and/or a situation that is creating a tension between the partners.
Transition and change by their very nature are going to create tension.
The status quo is a familiar place, and however satisfactory or unsatisfactory it is, at least it is familiar. When something comes along that threatens to shake that up it is then very normal to experience some resistance and perhaps even fear.
In partnerships, the call to change could be initiated by only one partner, but if one partner is feeling it, then it is most likely that the others are as well.
Though the inclination may be to ignore the tension or kick the can down the road, these strategies of avoidance will ultimately give way to the necessity of sitting down and working it out. There is no time like the present.
It may be that the conditions in and around your business have undergone a change.
It is important that you are willing and able to explore what this means to you and your partnership.
One catalyst for change is the upcoming retirement of one of the partners.
Even though you likely have buy/sell agreements in place to take care of the legal aspects of the process that does not mean to suggest that there are not some very important human dimensions that still need consideration.
For example, a senior level partner that is nearing retirement may want the business to be merged into a larger ownership system through a buyout that would result in the firm being absorbed into a larger structure.
To the senior partner this may seem an obvious choice to ensure long-term stewardship of the business, perhaps motived by a desire to protect long-term value and to entrench stability.
To a younger partner, this move could seem like being put into a straight jacket that would inhibit transitioning towards future emerging opportunities.
The result is two or more partners that are now in a tension regarding what should happen next.
The tendency for many partners now would be to get strategic, perhaps defensive, to rationalize their ideas, and in some cases to start looking around for support for their idea about how things should go.
As fear arises, resourcefulness moves inversely, and rather than everyone becoming creative and generative as a response to the situation partners now get reactive. That is when things get said that are regrettable or actions are taken that are less than optimal and sometimes even destructive.
And it doesn't have to go that way.
Remember where you were aligned, in the best interests of the firm and each other?
When there is a diversion of vision, it is important for the partners to find some points of alignment through which they can agree are important to everyone.
One example of this may be shared values.
By aligning around mutually important values, you now have a steadying reference point that you can all lean into as a shared stake in the ground.
Now continue to find more points of alignment.
Think of this as building a constellation of alignment.
Next, identify the deeper concerns and objectives of each partner.
In the above example one partner is concerned about stability, legacy, and preserving while the other partner is concerned about expanding, adapting, and being leading edge.
While it may seem at first glance that these two views are worlds apart, it is also a demonstration of the benefits and strength of partnerships in creating a stronger compliment of visions, values, and resources.
Now it is going to be a much better conversation as it is grounded in mutual recognition and respect.
Resourcefulness and synergy will now be amplified, and this is the time to begin generating a variety of possible solutions to the bigger questions.
This process can be challenging to do when everyone involved is invested in the outcome.
This is a very good time to bring in someone like a coach that can not only facilitate this conversation but can also support the partners in staying resourceful in a high-stakes conversation.
Partnership relationships require tending from time to time. Though it may not be convenient, it pays off big through synergy, focus, and effective results.
Patrick Ryan is an executive coach based in Vancouver, Canada that works with partnerships, family enterprises, professionals, and entrepreneurs.