Alan’s corner: Tips to make a partnership work
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Alan’s corner: Tips to make a partnership work

Alan’s corner: Tips to make a partnership work

Communication is central to the success of any partnership

Alan O'Neill - 100 days

Interest in the rock band Queen has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years.

People above a certain age are talking about them again and humming their iconic songs. The Bohemian Rhapsody movie has put the band back on our radar in a big way. I must confess, I had forgotten about many of its greatest hits and I’m thoroughly enjoying the nostalgia that goes with it all.

I was on a long-haul flight this week and the film popped up on the menu in front of me. With Freddie Mercury being played by Oscar-winner Rami Malek, I was engrossed for the full two hours and 13 minutes.

Now I won’t attempt to critique it, but I will say that I enjoyed it very much. I found it inspiring, funny and really quite emotional.

The band was initially called ‘Smile’ and the four original members were playing the pubs and clubs circuit, but with limited success. When the lead singer left the band, it opened up a place for flamboyant Farrokh Bulsara, born in Tanzania to Indian parents, to join the band.

Farrokh adopted the English name Freddie and later became Freddie Mercury. And as you know, the rest is a history of amazing musical success, personal tragedy and a fantastic legacy of great hits from these four business partners.

The business challenge with partnerships 
When Mercury joined, bringing his style, voice and creativity to the mix, the band became a well-functioning unit.

Each member had a clearly defined role. There was a lead guitarist, a bassist, a drummer and a lead singer. Unlike most organisations, their individual roles were very clear and there was no ambiguity.

Even when it came to song-writing, each one’s talent was respected and they each had a go at it.

After a few years of global fame, Freddie was encouraged to leave the band and launch a solo career.

Although it didn’t work out, he was subsequently welcomed back to the band – just like the ‘prodigal son’.

There was of course lots of sulking and raised voices, but the three members were very grown up about it all. Very soon they were back to rehearsals for the famous Live Aid concert, the crescendo of that phase of their career with Mercury.

Partnerships between friends in business can be very challenging. Art in this case imitates real life, as the UAE is full of SME partnerships that were built on great ideas and ambitions. But they don’t all work out.

I know of one organisation that is owned and run by two gents that never speak to each other at all.

They operate their business and communicate exclusively through their accountant. Can you imagine the inefficiencies and lost opportunities that go hand in hand with that scenario? Not to mention the personal stress and risk to the business.

I have no idea what caused the rift in the first place, but whatever the reason – it’s bad for business.

Tips to make a partnership work
You may be starting out on a new venture with some colleagues. Or you may already be up and running as a business partnership. Is there room for improvement in how you work together? If so it might be a good
idea now to renew your “vows”.

01. Revisit your North Star and ask yourselves…
why are you in business? What is your purpose, your vision and your mission. These questions will help you to get grounded once again.

02. Consider the values or principles that you all hold dear. Undoubtedly, you’ll include respect, integrity, honesty, etc. But expand those words into examples of where they apply in your business. This will help
you check in on your culture and bring the behaviours that are expected and accepted to the fore.

03. Shape the most appropriate structure to ensure you deliver your strategy. Start with empty boxes in an organisation chart and profile the required role in each box. Then match up each partner to the best
position – and clarify their roles and responsibilities.

That exercise might reveal the need for changes to how you currently operate. But if you use your North Star as your guide, that will make those decisions a lot easier.

The last word
I know it’s a cliché, but communication is central to the success of any partnership.

It’s not easy, particularly when relationships go off track. But remind yourself that there is too much to lose by allowing ambiguity to prevail.

Partners should take time out to discuss their roles and relationship. And as the business evolves they should keep up that level of communication. That’s a recipe for a successful partnership.

Now I do appreciate that these conversations can be awkward, but that will only apply to the first one.

An objective facilitator would guide you through this process.

Alan O’Neill is the managing director of Kara, a change consultant and speaker

Also read: Alan’s Corner: How do you conduct performance coaching?

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