Facing Co-founder Issues
Looking for a coach to resolve co-founder issues? Here’s what to expect.
Even with the most well-intended founders, co-founder issues crop up. Even, and sometimes especially, when you start out creating a company as friends, what shows up at work in your relationship doesn’t show up in your friendship outside the office. As co-founding leaders within the container of the company, issues are bound to arise around communication, working styles, management styles, delineations about who’s doing what, who feels valued or not, unshared vision and direction — to name a few. Where personalities clash, communication stops, and a lack of maturity or skills show up, these situations can feel unworkable.
The good news is: all co-founder situations, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant they can feel, are indeed workable. Founders can feel heard, find their right place in relationship to the organization, and issues can be named and navigated. Finding a coach to help navigate what’s showing up and creating an impasse can help you face what’s happening and move forward with more clarity, skill, and ease.
Here’s what you can expect once you commit to working on your co-founder issues with a coach:
- Your coach will work with each of you and the third thing in the room — that being your relationship. They are a neutral third party to help hold up a mirror to what’s happening so you can build awareness, introduce new skills, and more towards what’s possible.
Listen: In a very open conversation, the 3 Co-founders of JW Player explore key challenging moments in their company and partnership history — and how they emerged from those moments stronger and more committed than ever. It’s an inspiring story of how they became leaders in the moments of conflict.
2. Co-founder coaching will not figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. Your coach will help you figure out the thing in between that’s not working — the relationship. In other words, you’ll take a good look at the health of the “Us”.
Listen: What if your agreements with partners and co-workers were more focused on the characteristics of how you come together, related to one another, and work together, instead of what happens when sh*t hits the fan? What if your co-founder agreement came from a place of hope instead of fear? Zelle Nelson and Maureen McCarthy are co-founders of The Center For Collaborative Awareness. In this conversation, they talk about a collaborative process called “The Blueprint of We,” a mindful approach to build and sustain healthier, more resilient business and personal relationships and partnerships.
3. You’ll get clear about what you’re hoping for in the sessions. What are you holding? What are you hoping for? What are your expectations? What does success look like?
Listen: On this episode of the Reboot Podcast, co-founders Chris Savage and Brendan Schwartz share how listening to their instincts led them to flip the script, throw out the startup handbook, and take back ownership of their video-software company, Wistia.
4. Remember when and how you came together. What was happening then? What was exciting? Where were you in your life? Where are you now? What’s exciting now?
Listen: Jules Pieri and her partner Joanne Domeniconi are the Co-founders of The Grommet. They join Jerry to talk about the beginning of their partnership, where and how they found alignment at the human level, how it has evolved over time, and the challenges it represents as they scale the business.
5. Find a safe space to say what you need to say. How safe do you feel with each other? What stops you from saying what you need to say? Your coach will not only model a space that’s safe for things to be said, they may set up some ground rules for how to interact and communicate to establish new ways to be with each other.
Listen: On this episode of the Reboot Podcast, Sara and Mathias turn to Jerry for support in establishing a blueprint for their new business partnership, specifically looking to gain insight on how to communicate successfully across a large geographical barrier.
6. Discover new ways of listening. Often, what we say is not what is being heard, and that can make all the difference in conversations that go off the rails, leaving someone (or both of you) feeling unseen and unheard. A coach helps you hear what is being said, versus what you’re hearing.
How’s your listening? Assess your listening skills, learn new ways to listen, and skills to practice with our free Listening Course.
7. Expose the dynamic that keeps you stuck. From a meta stance, your coach can help you see your dynamic more clearly. What happens, and what happens next? Who gets triggered, and what is the reaction tendency? Where does that take the conversation?
Listen: Dan Putt and Jay Acunzo explore several big challenges facing founders in an effort to debunk the myth that the “soft stuff” is less important than the “harder” skills we typically hear more about. We believe the startup world needs less “how-tos” and more self-reflection around the question: “how am I personally showing up?” And this is perhaps the most important question startup founders can ask themselves — after all, one of the biggest reasons startups fail is due to Co-Founder conflict.
8. Connect to how you feel when the dynamic is in the room, in real-time. Your coach can help you gain more self-awareness about how you are experiencing this relationship, your feelings, thoughts and story-makings, and your reactions. By understanding what happens to you, you can create more space to choose a different, or more generative, response.
Listen: In this episode, Ben and Dan open up to Jerry about what it’s like being co-founders. They shed light on how their mutual anxieties affect their relationship and their company.
9. Identify the elephants in the room. What are the things that haven’t been named that need to be named? What really needs to be talked about? For instance, we keep arguing over the go-to-market strategy (which is probably important), but perhaps what we really need to talk about (but we’re not) is how we consistently feel undermined by each other in meetings.
Listen: Dan Putt & Jay Acunzo discuss: When you’re certain there are some issues between you and your co-founder(s), but you’ve let them linger unspoken for a while, what do you do? Is it too late? Can you reign them back in and salvage the relationship(s)? Should that even be the goal? There is so much content out there about being a founder, and for whatever reason, “soft” skills like communication, leadership, and mental well-being are either considered second-tier topics or, unfortunately, they’re criticized outright. We all believe this to be utter crap. They’re not soft skills, they’re hard skills to both develop and teach throughout your organization.
10. Discover the process or skills to get you where you want to be in your relationship. How do you want to be together? What kind of relationship do you want to create together? How can you be more present for each other so that you can look at issues in a way that doesn’t feel like a personal attack? What is required of each of you, internally, to be able to show up for your co-founder — and the relationship — in that way?
Listen: Erin Frey and Ti Zhao, the co-founders of Kip, sit down with Jerry to talk about the issues they run into and the importance of effective communication for a growing team. Tending to good communication sets culture, direction, and creates the conditions in which raising capital is enhanced.
As Co-founders, you face hard questions and challenges together from the beginning. If important questions are not asked ahead of time, or the health of the relationship tended to with awareness, things can devolve quickly and affect the team and the company. What is the foundation you need to maintain a healthy, functional relationship? What is at risk if you don’t establish this? Hear more cofounder conversations on the Reboot Podcast.
In 2016, after our first Co-founder Bootcamp, we created our free Co-founder Reboot course. This course is designed to be taken by you and your co-founder(s) together. Over five days, lessons and exercises designed to bring understanding, alignment, efficiency, and satisfaction to your relationship will be emailed to you. These include journaling writing from our co-founder, journaling prompts, and a blueprint framework for you and your cofounders to use to co-create your agreements and commitments to your relationship.