With 2022 well underway, it is a perfect time to think about good practices to adopt with your business partners. Collaborating is a source of innovation, business growth, and new relationships. It gives you a chance to see how other people and companies work which can be a great learning experience. It seems easy—no need for tips—but the truth is business collaborations are conceptually simple, but it can be quite challenging operationally to unite two or more companies with their individual structures, strategies, cultures, and processes in pursuit of a common objective.
First, what does it mean to be a “good” partner? It is all about working to accomplish more than either party could do on their own in the course of a long-term trusting, purposeful mutually beneficial relationship. It doesn’t mean you always have to do what the partner wants and it doesn’t mean everything has to be equal. It means that on balance, over time, each partner comes out ahead.
Here are our top ten tips to be a good partner:
- Always assume best intentions – Your partner wants to be a good partner, too!
- Listen to understand, speak to be understood – Most misalignments and problems in partnerships come about because of simple misunderstandings. Take a moment to repeat back what your partner says to make sure you get what they are saying right—and check to make sure you stated your message clearly.
- Use email sparingly – Use the phone or video for anything other than straightforward, simple communication. An added benefit—on the phone or video you have an opportunity to build your relationship which doesn’t occur in email
- Get to know your counterpart – To add to that last tip, the pandemic has certainly made it challenging to build relationships. Take the time to have a video coffee chat without a business agenda to just get to know each other as people. It definitely takes more work to nurture relationships when getting together face-to-face and over dinner doesn’t happen routinely.
- Appreciate differences – If a partner was just like us, there would be no reason to partner. The key reason companies partner rather than buy is that partnering is the best way to leverage knowledge, expertise, and experience. They may have figured out a better way of doing something that we can benefit from.
- Be accountable – Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. Not only will that keep the project on track, it will help build trust, which happens when people experience trustworthiness over time.
- Respect interests – Trust also develops when people feel that their rights and interests are respected. Think about what matters to them and what will help them be successful.
- Think we, not us and them – Good alliances think of themselves as one team, working together to achieve a common objective. They use language like “our team” or “our project” to help create the mindset of oneness, even though you come from separate companies.
- Stop problems early – Establish a process for providing feedback that each partner can use to ensure that little problems don’t become big problems. Find the right time and place and be sure to have permission to offer feedback in a constructive way.
- Help your partner help you – Good partners practice give and get thinking. They operate under the mindset of I’ll help you do what you are trying to do so that you will help me do what I am trying to do. Of course, for your partner to help you, you have to let them know what you need.
Practice these ten tips and you’ll have more productive collaborations. And remember, the sign of a good collaboration isn’t that there is never any conflict. In fact, conflict can often produce a better outcome. What you want is a collaboration where each partner knows they are better off than they would have been if they were on their own.