In the article “3 Tips for Dealing with Co-Founder Conflict,” featured on Inc.’s website, contributor Jessica Stillman shares advice for how to address any problems that may arise among co-founders.
“If you thought finding a co-founder was hard, just wait until you try starting and running a company with one,” says Stillman in the article. “The pressure cooker of entrepreneurship can strain even the tightest bonds between co-founders. So what do you do when the (nearly) inevitable happens and conflict develops between you and your business partner?”
Stillman shares three tips for handling co-founder conflict, provided by the social entrepreneurship academy, Unreasonable Institute, which recently crowdsourced advice from its community of founders, who have also experienced this problem:
- Don’t fight in front of the team or investors. Almost everyone agreed on this point who responded to Unreasonable Institute’s question. “Avoid fighting in front of either your employees or your investors. This isn’t because you’re trying to hide something from them; it’s because they can’t do anything useful to resolve the conflict, making their involvement a distraction to them and you,” states Chris Yeh, vice president of marketing at PBworks and co-founder at Wasabi Ventures and who was one crowdsourced representative of Unreasonable Institute, in the article. “If you can’t resolve the issue on your own, find a third party who all the people involved trust. This person should have the ability to remain objective and act as a referee to make sure that the process is followed. Do not force this person to be the judge; it’s unfair to abdicate your responsibilities as founders to someone else. Their role is to facilitate, not to decide.”
- Be clean about your differences. Being clear about your differences is important, but so is being “clean.” Gayle Karen Young, former CTCO Wikimedia Foundation, reports in the article that being “clean” means getting the positioning and history out on the table and then eliminating as many “subversive dynamics as possible,” because these can “poison the broader conversation with investors and employees.” Being clean also leads to the conversation with the employees/investors becoming “a matter of integrity and transparency,” notes Young in the article.
- Don’t make it personal, ever. Never make the conflict with a co-founder/owner personal but instead focus the conversation on business objectives. “Present a list of things the business needs to achieve to succeed. Simply state that these things aren’t getting accomplished, and the business needs to find people who will achieve those objectives,” explains Jeff Hoffman, co-founder of Priceline.com and ColorJar, in the article. “People can always argue about your opinion of another person, or your ability to get along, but completing business goals and tasks is much more black and white and makes it obvious when someone on the team doesn’t belong there anymore.”
You can read the entire article on addressing co-founder conflict here.