In basic terms, a partnership is when two or more people consciously choose to work in tandem towards a common task. This can be short or long term. And this can be personal or professional.

There are many types of partnerships that exist. In our personal lives we have friendships, platonic love, and marriages. We also have partnerships such as co-parenting, child-parent, and siblings. In our professional lives, partnerships can be general, limited, and even private. Regardless of the type of partnerships, there are critical components you can put in place to ensure the stability and efficacy of a partnership.

According to a study by, 80% of business partnerships fail. And with nearly 10% of all businesses being some sort of partnership, this represents millions of companies—a staggering number. Yet, in many of the articles you will read on the subject or partnerships, advice is offered to address the likelihood of failure, not how to avoid it. Now, some of this advice is very practical and I certainly agree with it: make it legal/official; establish exit clauses; establish conflict resolution methods between partners. However, I believe that if you take the time to put the elements in place to establish and maintain a healthy partnership, you are far less likely to have to exercise the tools to dissolve the partnership or deal with avoidable internal conflict.

When it comes down to the 5 keys of a healthy partnership, it is about how you and your partner choose to S.H.A.P.E. it from the onset.

  1. Shared Vision. A shared vision is what you and your partner want to accomplish. Often, a shared vision is conceived from a common purpose and shared interests and the efforts of the partnership specifically speak to these things. It is essential that “shared” is the critical component in this step so that each person feels like they are contributing to the overall vision. It is also not unreasonable for this to change over time. But the important thing is that the change is mutual. A shared vision is important because it sets the tone for the entire team from the top down and dictates how the pursuit of that vision will transpire. Your vision can be used as an essential tool to reinforce your partnership, promote your company, and lead and inspire others.
  2. Harmonized Process. When we think of process, it comes down to identifying, designing, and implementing a strategy towards the accomplishment of specific goals. However, there is often more than one way to achieve results. This is where harmonization comes in. In music, when we harmonize, different chords and melodies come together to blend into a beautifully presented single piece of music. The concept is much the same in partnerships. The goal is to find commonalities, eliminate conflicting standards, and identify the critical elements necessary to enable the process to run smoothly. This certainly takes compromise and is much more easily accomplished when there is a shared vision.
  3. Agreed Upon Roles. Clearly agreed upon roles are essential to a healthy partnership. While it is not essential or expected that these roles be equal, it is imperative that they be clearly articulated, understood, and agreed to by the partners.  Here are a few tips for establishing a healthy role in a partnership: a) write down a list of the tasks that need to be done to execute the process; b) write down the responsibility of each task; c) establish, in writing, who will be responsible for each task. Tasks can be divided based on preference, strengths of the partners, workload, degree of involvement of each partner, etc. The degree to which partners are involved can vary significantly. But that direct involvement is best when it is proportionate to the role each person takes in terms of day-to-day responsibilities and process. As an example, if one partner is taking mostly a financial investment role and is relatively uninvolved in the day-to-day operations and the other partner is managing the daily process, then it can create conflict if the uninvolved partner starts overstepping their role. The key is that it is mutually agreed upon, clearly communicated, and respected.
  4. Properly Invested. While the degree to which partners are involved in the process and their roles can vary significantly, it should be proportionate to how invested they are emotionally, financially, and practically. It is expected that a silent partner who is simply a financial investor is less invested emotionally and practically to the day-to-day. Similarly, it is expected that a partner running the daily operations is coming to be more emotionally invested. Each role is important. And each role should still feel like they are part of the partnership. Likewise, each partner should feel like they have legitimate skin in the game when it comes to the success of the partnership.
  5.  Established Goals. Where a shared vision establishes how you and your partner see the future, your goals set specific short and long term measurable targets towards reaching those results. Goals should be written down. They should be in line with your process. Each person’s role towards the accomplishment of those goals should be clearly identified. And each person should be reasonably invested in accomplishing those goals. Goals can most certainly change and adjust over time and simply need to fall in line with the S.H.A.P.E. model to ensure they support a healthy partnership.

While I certainly think every partnership needs to have the proper legal protocols in place, I believe healthy partnerships will take that one step further to get in great S.H.A.P.E.

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