The Five Common Pitfalls of Business Partnerships: Lessons from the Frontline

Business partnerships often fail due to lack of communication, poor conflict resolution, insufficient accountability, lack of respect, and misaligned values. Success requires addressing these issues and mutual commitment.

Mike Blake


In my career, I have witnessed the disintegration of numerous business partnerships, including experiencing two personally. These observations have highlighted several recurring reasons for partnership failures. Understanding these can be crucial for those looking to navigate or salvage their business relationships.

1. The Silence That Breaks Bonds: Lack of Communication: A critical case I encountered involved a partnership where the parties hadn't shared the same room for months. This extreme lack of communication is a death knell for any partnership. Addressing conflicts or serving clients effectively becomes a Herculean task under such circumstances. Communication is the bedrock of collaboration; without it, the structure inevitably crumbles.

2. When Conflict Resolution Turns Destructive: Conflicts are inherent in any relationship, but it's the approach to resolution that defines the outcome. I recall an assignment where a partner's attorney resorted to sheer aggression, embodying the unhelpful "bulldog" lawyer stereotype. Such tactics may suppress issues temporarily, but they resurface with greater complexity. Bullying or passive-aggression only festers the problem, rather than resolving it.

3. The Accountability Factor in Partnership: In a partnership, each member's actions affect the others, particularly financially. A common thread in many failed partnerships is the reluctance of one or both parties to be accountable to each other, especially regarding performance. This lack of accountability can lead to resentment and a breakdown in mutual trust.

4. Respect: The Foundation of Professional Interaction: Observing partnerships, it's startling to see the lack of basic courtesy partners often exhibit towards each other. Politeness isn't just a social nicety; it lays the groundwork for constructive interaction. Dismissiveness or rudeness can erode the foundations of even the strongest partnerships.

5. Aligning Values: The Cornerstone of Harmony: A partnership is doomed if there's a fundamental misalignment in values and goals. For instance, if one partner aspires to build a large-scale enterprise while the other prefers a lifestyle-oriented approach, such disparity can create insurmountable obstacles. Compromise becomes challenging when partners have divergent views on reinvesting profits or immediate income needs.

Recognizing these pitfalls is only the first step. The next is to introspect and acknowledge your role in the partnership's struggles – no one is flawless. If you're committed to salvaging the relationship, initiate open communication and gauge whether your partner is equally invested in repairing the bond. If the answer is no, then it might be time to consider a strategic exit.

Every partnership is unique, but these commonalities serve as a guide to diagnosing and addressing underlying issues. Whether to mend or end a partnership is a significant decision, but understanding these five pitfalls can provide clarity and direction in navigating this challenging path.

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