Can this Partnership be Saved? (1)

(This is the first of an occasional series.)

Martin and Eli are co-owners of a growing software company with about twenty employees. They met in university when Eli was dating one of Martin’s room-mates. They’ve been in business together for nearly ten years and have very different management styles. Martin is very detail-oriented and sometimes impatient. He can be abrasive when he feels that someone hasn’t met his high standards. Eli is more easy-going and laid-back. He expects people to work hard, and he also wants everyone to get along and even have fun.

Martin has two young children and spends most of his free time with his family. Eli is still single; he spends his free time at the gym or socializing with other single people in the company. Sometimes, people on Martin’s team hint to Eli that Martin can be difficult to work with. Eli knows that Martin is a good guy underneath it all and that he pushes people because he wants the best for their clients and he wants the company to succeed. Still, Eli has noticed that Martin’s team has a much higher turn-over rate than his. When yet another highly skilled developer on Martin’s team gives her notice, Eli starts to feel frustrated. He wonders if Martin is really the best partner he could have. He knows he needs to discuss this with Martin, but he’s not sure how to do it. In fact, even the thought of having the conversation makes him stressed. Maybe he would do better managing the company on his own.

A business partnership can be a very intense relationship. You have to be able to depend on one another. You invest your time, skill, and perhaps some capital in a business. You succeed or fail, not just by your own actions and decisions, but by your partner’s as well. The consequences of a failed relationship are high: A ruined business, lawsuits, damage to reputations, not to mention stress that invades every aspect of your life.

Clearly, a business partnership is a relationship worth some effort. But how much effort and what kind of effort? A New York Times article about the company Genius reports that the founders have turned to “couples therapy” to help their partnership.

Can Martin and Eli’s partnership be saved?

Maybe: They respect each other and have similar values and an equal commitment to the company’s success. While they aren’t close friends, they get along well enough. Martin and Eli clearly need some kind of help but I doubt that therapy is the solution for them. Martin needs to understand that his management style is hurting the business. He needs coaching to help him find the way to get the best out of his team without alienating them. Eli, his partner and equal in the company, is the best person to give him this message.  If Eli is unable to initiate this “difficult conversation” he may also need coaching. And Eli will need to support Martin as he develops better management skills.

Do you know anyone like Martin or Eli? Tell me about it in the Comments section below.