In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had a number of conversations with clients and colleagues about new approaches to business relationships: competitors shifting into co-marketing relationships, vendors and suppliers functioning more like partners and neighbors on the food chain working together to reach the same audience. The enthusiasm with which these more creative approaches to collaboration between businesses is being embraced thrills me – I love, love, love it!
BUT there’s a potential downside that we all have to watch out for: failure to communicate expectations. Through bitter experience, I’ve learned that if everyone working together does not share the same vision and goals, things can turn really ugly really fast.
Before diving into a new collaborative business relationship, I recommend asking everyone involved to write up their vision of what you’re building together, what they see their role to be and how they see your role.
Answering these questions may help:
- What is each person’s role?
- What are each person’s responsibilities?
- What legal relationship are you comfortable committing to?
- What financial relationship are you comfortable committing to?
- What’s going to happen if someone doesn’t fulfill their role or responsibilities?
- What if they think their performance is great and you don’t?
- What are your vision and goals for this collaboration?
- If everything works out as perfectly as possible, what do you think will happen?
- If everything goes badly, what’s the worst thing that could happen to you? to your collaborators?
- What are your personal ambitions and dreams for your work?
- How does this collaboration tie into them?
- Are you willing to set aside your individual name recognition to benefit this collaboration?
- Are you willing to allow one or more of your team members to gain name recognition if you don’t also?
- How will you handle decisions when there’s a disagreement between team members?
- What policies can you develop now for handling internal conflicts?
- What happens if a client is unhappy with one team member’s portion of the project?
- What policies can you develop now for handling conflicts with clients or vendors?
- How will income and expenses be distributed between members?
- How will boring or distasteful work be distributed between members?
- How will risk be distributed between members?
- What else do the other team member(s) need to understand about you before you make this commitment?
- What other sources of conflict can you think of that need to be addressed?
Taking the time to hammer out a clear vision of how you’re going to work together – while you’re still friends and before there’s any money at stake – is a crucial first step towards building collaborative relationships that work.