So you're thinking about working with a friend?


Many people go into business with a friend. It seems so natural - why not? You have a great relationship - common ground - it'll be fun!

The problem is, it could well spell the end of the friendship. I was in business for many years and had quite a few friends in my business. I was known for it and in retrospect, it had its ups and downs. The ups were simple. You had lunch and spent time with people you liked - that's a real bonus. In fact the fun can be a bit of a distraction, but mostly it makes work great. But there is a down-side.

You see, it is my view that you don't really know someone until there is something serious at stake, such as their job, or your money. Then the real test of character happens.

I'll give you an example. I have a good friend who believes in crystals. She believes that different crystals have different powers - to heal, to change beliefs etc. Now I'm an uber-rationalist with a bit of a science background. So you can imagine I don’t share the same beliefs of the power of crystals. That's not to say I don't believe in magic, but in my view it's all within ourselves and our power to transform ourselves and others. The crystals don’t play a part in my universe (unless it's placebo - and that’s another subject).

Back to my friend. Dealing with our differences on this subject is easy. I don't discuss it. There is no need. I feel no desire to convert her to my way of thinking. I like her just the way she is. I know that if I were to try to convert her, she could well find it quite upsetting and that would stress our friendship - possibly causing permanent damage. We have plenty of common ground and other things to talk about. So at a friendship level, differences can be catered for.

Business is different, however. Misalignment in values, underperformance, and differences in strategy DO have a very real impact on business performance. Now if your difference in mindset or world-view or belief doesn't impact the business at all, then no problem. But if it does, then you have to have a "courageous conversation", and quite frankly, if you cannot come to a harmonious agreement on the subject, one of you has to go. There are plenty of friendships which won’t survive that one.

I must say that in all my years as a business owner, my observation of people is that that they put their own needs too often ahead of the company's when push comes to shove and they won’t understand when you, the CEO, quite rightly puts the needs of the company ahead of their right to have a job at your company.

The other issues that arises with friends in your company is the elevated sense of authority they assume because they are your friend. As friends, you are of course equal but it doesn't apply in the delegation/accountability structure of an organization, and not getting these two things confused is not easy. My experience tells me that the people who can properly separate these are rare.

It takes courage to be a leader, and that courage will be tested when, as inevitably you will have a difference of opinion with staff who have become friends or friends you went into business with.

So if you're wrestling with what to do about a conflict between your friendship for a co-working/employee and the best interests of the business - I have some advice and you might not like it - but you'll hear it from time to time:

"What's best for business is best for the business"

Ultimately everyone is better off if you act in the best interests of the business, but don't expect everyone to see it that way (did I mention it's lonely at the top?)..

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