10 rules of great partnership meetings

Partnership meetings have been a big part of my adult career, from my time at small startups to big companies like Microsoft, Google and Slack. Some meetings go really well and drive a lot of value and business opportunities to both sides. Others were a total catastrophe leading nowhere. Each meeting is a learning exercise, and this article sums up some of what I’ve learned.

Here are the 10 rules of good partnerships meeting:

  1. Know what you want out of the meeting — Always make sure you understand what you want to achieve out of this partnership and meeting. For example — Many times you see meeting invitation requests starting with “we are seeking mutual collaboration” but when you dive into it, it is hard to understand what that means.
  2. Understand what the other partner wants out of the meeting— Understanding the motivation of your partner is as important as understanding your own. For example — at Microsoft I used to write the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) for the partner before each meeting.
  3. Bring the right people — When discussing technical issues, bring a tech expert, if there are business issues, bring your biz person. Not having the right people in the room can lead to awkwardness at best and to a big mess up more often. For example — I attended a meeting where the other side wanted to talk about the legal aspects of the partnership, boy, that was awkward…Figuring out number 1 (What do you want out of the meeting) and number 2 (what does the other side want out of the meeting) will help you understand who to bring to the meeting.
  4. Be transparent and as clear as possible—the ABCs of a good partnership are Always Be Communicating. Make sure the other side understands you, repeat that understanding in writing. Be forthcoming with issues and work problems out together. There are a few edge cases where you want to protect the relationship from internal noise, but in general: clear and transparent communication is the best approach. A good example for transparency is our open platform roadmap.
  5. Don’t assume — Those who assume make an ass out of u and me. Assumptions should be validated with the partner. For example — Asking “does your API support X” costs nothing, building under a wrong assumption will cost you a lot!
  6. Listen more than you speak — A good partnership meeting is about listening, understanding and clearly communicating. You have two ears and one mouth. Keep this 2:1 ratio of listening to speaking in mind and practice. Even when asked to present or lead the conversation, usually listening and asking questions is the best course for collaboration. For example —a well structured and timed question can move the conversation to the right path and even lead the other side to suggest the course of action that would be objected if you would suggest it directly.
  7. Focus — Many good meetings get derailed, someone gets bored or their attention wanders and they start talking about things which is not core to the conversation. This is a very easy way to kill time and useful meetings. Have an agenda and follow it in a productive way. For example — If the legal team wants to talk about the contract, while your agenda is all about product collaboration, feel free to suggest to set time to dive in to the contract in a different meeting.
  8. Be respectful and courteous — Your partner might not come from the same culture as you. They might be used to a different work environment and communication style than you have. Being respectful and courteous takes very little effort and usually yields positive outcomes, it is the basic of all human interactions, not just biz. For example — I have seen a good business development manager defuse a hard tech conversation by calmly assuring the team that we are all striving for the same goal.
  9. Drive to resolution — Many meetings end up with no action items, and fall into the abyss of “that was nice, not sure what’s next”. Be sure to finish the meeting with an action item. It could be that this is a dead end, and there is no room for future action item, but that is very rare, and you will know if that happens.
  10. Followup — Great business development people I work with always followup with communication that sums up their understanding of the meeting, what was discussed, and the action items. They also followup on the action items to see that they actually happen.

Extra tip—When discussing this article with my friend and head of Platform Business Development at Slack Jassim Latif — he added that choosing the right meeting is also very important. Time spent on a low impact meeting is the same time spent on a high impact meeting. Make sure you choose the latter. Buster Benson, our friend who leads Slack’s Platform Product team suggested doing more virtual meetings in channel.

Conclusion

Partnerships are not easy. They require timing, opportunity, luck, clear communication, technical fit and many other aspects to succeed. While some aspects are inevitably out of your control, following the recommendations outlined in this article to maximize that which you can control and increase the likelihood of a mutually successful meeting.