Most co-founders have experienced this simple truth: the health of your business mirrors of the health of your partnership.
You can have the perfect idea, a winning strategy, and a war chest of investment dollars to fund your venture. But if you can’t manage the inevitable friction that arises in co-founding a company together, your business will likely fail.
In fact, this relationship between founders is often so intense, so close, that it mirrors many of the problems we encounter in intimate relationships. As in marriage, the co-founder relationship can be torn apart by poor communication habits, resentment, and power struggles.
This parallel, however, also works in the opposite direction. Many of the very same research-backed tools you can use to enhance marriage can also optimize your partnership.
How can you apply these tools to your cofounder relationship? Here are five ways to begin.
1. Cultivate a spirit of shared success.
When you define success as an individual achievement, all sorts of relationship problems arise. This mindset introduces envy and competition into the relationship. It creates a culture where the central belief becomes: “When I win, you lose” and “When you win, I lose.” This divisive mindset is a losing formula for intimate relationships and for your business.
There’s a better way to engage with your cofounder: the spirit of shared success. This spirit is about aligning incentives so that when one of you wins, you both win. It’s a powerful shift that dissolves the power struggles that arise when you’re striving for individual, rather than shared, success.
2. Reveal your frustrations.
In co-founder relationships, as in marriage, withholding your resentment is like leaving a boiling pot on the stove. Sooner or later, it’s going to explode. And when it does, the energy drain from all this drama takes a significant toll on your ability to move the business forward.
A better way to handle these inevitable moments of frustration is to reveal them as soon as they arise. When you do this, it can be helpful to stick to the facts of the situation (instead of your story about it) and reveal your inarguable emotional experience. Instead of saying, “you’re trying to cut me out of important meetings, aren’t you?” it’s saying, “I notice that I felt frustrated when you didn’t include me on the invite to the meeting last week.”
3. Appreciate your partner.
Appreciation has the power to radically shift the culture of your relationship. This is one of the central findings from the research on healthy marriages. A simple, “thank you,” or an acknowledgment of a job well done creates an upward spiral. It dissolves resentment and makes the other person in the relationship that much more likely to respond in kind.
You can harness this contagious quality of appreciation by noticing when your co-founder nails a presentation, makes a huge sale, or spends hours working behind the scenes to grow the business.
4. Create space for big picture thinking.
There’s a state of mind common to both startups and modern married life: busyness. With all that needs to be done each day, you can easily lose ourselves in a state of constant doing. The result is that you might rarely take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and think strategically about where you need to go next. In short, you can get so caught up in the small stuff that you forget to create space for reflecting on your bigger vision together.
As co-founders, you can interrupt this pattern by scheduling regular check-in’s or even occasional offsites that include wide-open spans of time for reflection, innovation, and strategic thinking.
5. Take in the good.
In startup life, as in married life, we often overlook the power of gratitude. We’re too busy looking forward in time– planning for future meetings or dreaming about future possibilities– to notice what we’re grateful for, right here, right now. As a result, when wins come our way, we often downplay our success or just ignore these moments and move on to the next thing.
The emerging research on gratitude, however, shows that when we savor even the smallest victories, we experience an almost instantaneous boost in mood and happiness. As co-founders, becoming mindful of these moments helps strengthen the partnership. Savoring these moments fuels the fire of motivation, which helps you become more resilient as you ride the rollercoaster of building a business together.