5 Road Rules for Strategic Partnership Success

There is this ridiculous intersection in Williamsburg, VA. As soon as westbound traffic passes through, the cars must then choreograph a merge in a very short space of time -- literally no more than about 20 feet and 3 seconds. Now, merging can be a pre-school level challenge with serious consequences under normal circumstances. But this merge is a left-to-right maneuver; not the standard right-to-left.

Yes, the left lane (the side with the oncoming traffic) disappears about 3 seconds after you cross the intersection. Not only do you need to find a way to play nice with the folks in the other lane, you've got to make sure you don't stray over the double-yellows into the grill of some guy's F-150.

And, truly, this is how it is merging in professional life. There are treacherous left-to-right challenges all over the place. We may not be talking life and death, but the principles are the same:

  • Get the right people at the table. Not all drivers are as skilled or focused, or have the same temperament. Yes, Ed's your good friend and Susan is a longtime colleague, but do their skills and talents fulfill the needs of the venture. Who among you is handling the key tasks and functions? Topical expertise doesn't equal business savvy or management chops. Nor does friendship equal long-term professional commitment. And in these situations, you can loose focus on the business of running your business.

  • Get everyone on the same page. In a perfect traffic world, people in the two lanes take turns, giving everyone a fair chance to enter the single lane without incident. In the business world, do you and your partner(s) have the same ideas about assignments and responsibilities? Or are you just assuming that any sane person would do things the way you would? Know what you want and what your own vision of partnership looks like before beginning.

  • Establish clear signs and indicators. Most of us understand and interpret directional signals the same way, but maybe there are distinctions that we wouldn't expect about one another. Is there a contract? Are there benchmarks that allow all parties to measure progress? Is there clear communication between you and your partner(s)? Is everyone listening? Does discussion turn into clear direction and action? Map out a plan for implementation together, and question your most basic assumptions.

  • Schedule enough time for the trip. Let's not have an accident due to race track maneuvers. A high-pressure or impractical timeline is no way to get started in a partnership. Is everyone truly on board with the timeline? When is it time to count your losses and pull out of the deal? Are you feeling rushed and uncomfortable? Make sure you're grounded and realistic from the start.

  • Be prepared for hazards. The accident has happened and it ain't pretty. What type of insurance -- literally and metaphorically speaking -- did you put in place to protect the venture or cut your losses? Create a dissolution agreement or a memorandum of understanding to ensure appropriate allocation of assets, and that breaking up is as painless as possible.

Putting a damper on your euphoria? Don't let it get you down, but don't enter into this venture blindly either. Give that merger, partnership or collaboration plenty of consideration and planning. You'll be better situated to handle whatever comes your way.

Originally published in the Weirding Word® Blog.