RULE #1: Define Roles

Sun Tzu wrote one of the best-selling books in human history: The Art of War. In this ancient writing, the author gives direct and practical advice to someone who wants to be victorious on the field of battle. And while running a business is not the same thing as directing armies in life or death struggles, many of the principles of communication and discipline can be applied.

On of Sun Tzu’s most important mandates is that a general must never give ambiguous orders. This is disastrous to an army. At the battle of Gettysburg, General Lee gave the order to one of his commanders to seize the hills of Big Round Top and Little Round Top. But Lee said that the commander in charge should take the hills “if you can.” Notice how this is a different order than “take the hill.” Because of the ambiguity of the order, Lee’s commander did not take the hill and as a result, the Union was able to hold the line and eventually push back for victory at Gettysburg.

When choosing a partner, it is also incredibly important that both of you are incredibly specific about what each of your responsibilities involves. On the TV show “The Office,” Jim and Michael become co-managers of Dunder-Mifflin. Michael is in charge of “Big Picture” concerns while Jim is in charge of “Day-to-Day” issues. The problem is that these areas are never fully defined and the two men constantly quarrel over who should do what?
Not only does this lead to an inefficient office, but it also hurts to morale of the employees. While people do not always like structure, an organized office provides stability. If an employee has a question about your business’s policy on dress code, to whom do they go? Even if you have a human resources person, HR will still need to turn to someone for an answer. Who answers this question?

Defining roles should also minimize the problem of micromanaging each other as partners. If you are equal partners, then it can be very frustrating if one of you is constantly “checking up” on the other. However, if you have clearly delegated responsibilities, each of you will be able to maintain as sense of autonomy and freedom that will make sure not to add undue pressure to your partnership.

Before agreeing to any kind of partnership, as many of the specifics as can be thought of should be explored. Who will do the hiring? Who will do the firing? Who will evaluate the employees? Who will be in charge of talking to maintenance for your building? Who is in charge negotiating with vendors? If there is a legal problem, who is in charge with communication with the lawyer?

Sit down and brainstorm with your partner about all potential responsibilities and issues that your business will need. Doing so will go a long way in guaranteeing that in the competitive world of business, you will be victorious.