For any startup looking to go the distance, building a solid team is of the utmost importance – particularly when it comes to co-founders. A healthy, working co-founder relationship can propel a company forward while a sour, ineffective one could spell future disaster.
Like any relationship, establishing a healthy co-founder dynamic requires effort from all involved parties. Whether you’re a founder who is already in a co-founder relationship or one looking to bring on a co-founder, here are some tips to help build a sustainable, healthy co-founder partnership.
Learn how best to communicate
Frequency of communication can have a huge impact on the overall health of a relationship, but how we communicate is just as, if not more, important. If you want to head-off many potential misunderstandings and frustrations, you should recognize that not everyone has the same communication style. You may be more analytical while another co-founder may be more intuitive, which can lead to some gaps in understanding each other. Understanding your personal communication style as well as those of your founding team can prevent a lot of headaches. (This Forbes article does a great job breaking down the four different communication styles in depth.)
Understand your roles & responsibilities
One of the potential benefits co-founding teams have over solo entrepreneurs is that they can bring different, complementary skills and strengths to the table. Ideally, a team will break up roles and responsibilities based on skills, as it can be more effective and efficient.
To help ensure that no one is stepping on anyone’s toes and to prevent things from getting dropped, it’s advisable to establish who is doing what as early as possible. In addition to increasing overall team efficiency and allowing you to cover more ground, this is also an exercise in building trust, a vital element of any successful partnership. This means you have to trust that your co-founders are managing their responsibilities, remaining focused on yours.
Don’t be afraid to disagree
It’s inevitable that you and your co-founder(s) will have differing opinions at some point. In fact, having differing opinions can be a good thing, as it can expand your thinking and may lead you to a solution that you may not have thought of independently. The issue doesn’t lie in having disagreements, but in the way your co-founding team handles them. This leads us to the idea of “good conflict” versus “bad conflict.” In simple terms, good conflict is constructive and focused on solutions to the problem at hand, while bad conflict can be destructive and unproductive. Some tips for engaging in good conflict when you have disagreements:
- Keep the conversation oriented towards finding a concrete solution to the problem at hand
- Avoid using generalizations like “you always,” or “you never”
- Actively listen before forming a response and don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if needed
- Don’t take differences in opinion personally
It can take some practice, but the better your team can get at navigating disagreements in a healthy, productive way, the better off your startup will be.
Know when to compromise
Entrepreneurs can be highly independent, which can sometimes clash with a team environment. Naturally, being a part of a co-founding team rather than a solo founder means that you won’t always get your way. In this arena, pride can be a destructive force, so you need to know how to remain flexible and pick your battles wisely. Ultimately, working together to come up with a solution will likely result in a better outcome for the business.
Establish a relationship outside of work
Many compare a co-founder relationship to that of a marriage in that it’s a long-term, legal commitment. You’re going to be spending a significant amount of time together, so it makes sense that you want to build a relationship with your co-founding team that extends beyond office life. Getting to know each other outside of a work setting can build more trust, respect, and understanding – all things that also translate to a better business partnership. You want a team that has your back and vice versa – getting to actually know one another is key to building that dynamic.
From splitting expenses and responsibilities, expanding your network, and collaborative problem solving, having at least one co-founder offers many potential benefits. In addition to these practical benefits, a healthy co-founder relationship can also be fun and socially rewarding. As a founder, you will experience both successes and failures – having a positive co-founder dynamic can help make the ups and downs easier to weather.