This week, we’re talking about something that sounds a bit silly but could be the most valuable thing any of you will ever do for your business – co-founders couples therapy.
I’ve talked a lot in the past about the importance of choosing the right co-founder and getting all of the proper agreements in place so everyone’s clear on everything up front. I stand by that, of course, but since building a business is so stressful and ever-changing, just like a marriage, even if you chose the perfect co-founder and you agreed on how everything should look upfront, you’re still not going to make it through such a close relationship for any length of time without experiencing conflict at some point.
There’s nothing wrong with conflict, it’s a normal part of human interaction and it can actually be quite helpful in a business setting because you need to examine competing ideas and evaluate what would really be the best course of action in order to succeed. You don’t want everyone just agreeing with everything and nobody having creative ideas or thought-provoking concerns about the business’ strategy. The trouble lies in how that conflict is handled by the co-founders.
Now, I’m not a therapist and you’re not sitting in my office with me, so I’m not going to pretend I can give you some therapy through this computer screen and fix your relationship with your co-founder. I can, however, help you identify some tried and true signs that you need to find someone – a real, live, in-person therapist – who can.
Just as in a marriage, in a business there are some sure signs that your relationship is on thin ice and that you’re probably good candidates for co-founders couples therapy:
First up: does either partner feel like they’re not being heard? It’s one thing to have two different opinions, talk it out, and choose to go with one or the other. It’s another thing for one partner to bulldoze the other so she feels like her opinion isn’t even being heard or respected. A partner who doesn’t feel heard is a partner who will soon feel very resentful.
Which brings us to sign #2 you and your co-founder need to head over to couples’ therapy: either partner feels resentment towards the other. Resentment is poison in any relationship whether it’s a business partnership, a marriage, or just a friendship. If either partner is resentful, you need to go deal with it now.
Clue #3 that you probably need couples therapy with your co-founder is that either partner wants out of the business, but it’s not because he or she doesn’t believe in the business’ potential for success anymore. If a co-founder starts saying things like his heart just isn’t in it anymore or he wants to pursue other opportunities but maintains complete confidence in the business’ potential, there’s more than likely something else going on. Yes, maybe the co-founder just has a short attention span, but more likely there is an issue with the relationship that he may not even be aware of, but that is making him want to exit the partnership.
If you or your co-founder is experiencing any of these feelings, you should get your butts to couples therapy ASAP. Your business depends on you and your partner working well together and being able to communicate and make decisions about strategy and direction without any strong negative emotions clouding your judgment or slowing down the process. Besides, co-founder couples therapy seems to be the rage these days with everyone from Cisco to Stanford to Google offering it for their top executive teams or student co-founders. Does it sound silly to say my co-founder and I are in couples therapy? Yeah, I suppose; but if it will help your business thrive it’s well worth it.