Starting a small business can be a daunting task that has led about 1.6 million owners to seek out a partner to add leadership support or to help provide skills that they lack, according to Forbes magazine. While teams formed around a common business goal are likely to be well-aligned and full of trust in the beginning, there are many reasons the relationship can fill with doubt, frustration, and disrespect over time which can ruin a business quickly. According to Entrepreneur magazine, starting a business can be extremely stressful even without worrying about coexisting with a partner and differences in leadership style, skills, commitment, and even personal habits. All of these can cause tension.
Having two bosses with entirely different styles, for example, can negatively affect everyone in a company if they are sending mixed signals or spend too much time arguing. One might be a task-oriented disciplinarian that values efficiency and order over the laissez-faire, creative mindset of their partner who would rather make sure employees are happy and having fun. Perhaps the partners come from a background of management and design, respectively, and they tend to lead based on the skills they are already familiar with from their past. Each person will privately value their own perspective more than the other, leading to conflict.
As the initial stages of a startup wind down and time goes on, the commitment and personal habits of each partner become a more significant factor in maintaining a successful relationship. Two people will likely have different coping mechanisms and work-life balance priorities along with changing ideas on their role within a company. In this situation, it is incredibly easy for the 50/50 balance of a partnership to swing in one direction or another, leading to feelings of guilt or resentment as the inequality builds.
Although there is no perfect system, it is recommended that partners talk openly at all times about their expectations, feelings, and sense of progress while being careful to avoid unproductive ‘mudslinging.’ Be prepared not to find agreement on every issue, and the more willing partners are to discuss matters, the better their chances of long-term success. If an owner feels like there is an unresolvable impasse looming, they should consult with a lawyer on an exit strategy and be prepared to leave an unreasonable partner.