Great! You are arguing…, but!

Co-founder conflicts are good to have, but pay attention to what you argue about…

source: unknown

Patrick Lencioni, one of my favorite business/management authors, wrote in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (text summary here and video summary here), the five issues that hamper the effectiveness and productivity of a team. One of those is “Fear of Conflict”.

If members are unwilling to confront and challenge others, and actively avoid it due to their fear of causing disruption, creating enemies and becoming unpopular, then the team is not working efficiently and will never achieve its full potential. (my words and not Patrick’s).

Patrick mentions (in effect) that conflict is good, differing opinions is good and diversity of thought is good. And it’s true. I mean, yes, there can be a relationship where no one thinks, feels or acts differently, but I doubt if the probability of it actually being so is even high enough to be considered an actual possibility.

Most startups, like a new band that struggles and breaks through the first few barriers, is at the risk of disbanding. The pressure, anxiety and agony of running and growing a startup can be overwhelming to a point where one, some or all co-founders decide that it’s not worth it and give it. In effect, becoming like that “One (semi) hit wonder” that was almost considered a prodigy!

I advise my startups and its founders to confront each other when they don’t believe or accept something that’s being said or done in the company. After all, even though each of them has their own path and way of making it through, all of them are (supposedly) acting with the benefit of their company in mind. And if they don’t speak or act up then (when the time is right), the feeling will fester until it becomes cancerous and breaks the will and enthusiasm of one or more team members. (Of course, this all depends on a healthy conversation potential and the maturity of the members to keep their egos in check and take feedback.)

The destination and the slow downward spiral. source:

Sensible and rational arguments are fine. They should happen in any team. But, there are a few arguments I am wary of when it comes to co-founders topic of debate. These are symptoms of things starting to go sideways and needs to be fixed (if possible) at the earliest.

Debates about vision of the company: The whole point of the team is to contribute and work towards a single cause or goal. But if the co-founders do not see eye-to-eye on the target, it can be disconcerting.

Disconnects about values of the company: Values are like philosophical principles that, like the invisible hand, should guide the thoughts and actions of every person in the company. While a person (or in this case an entity) can have multiple philosophies, having contradictory principles can be unnerving to the person and all those around him/her. A company, similarly, can have multiple principles based on their philosophies, but they cannot be contradictory.

Decisions on whose to blame: Let’s face it, the buck always stops at the CEO. But in a startup, sometimes, the roles of CEO and his/her CXOs is sometimes, never really well-defined. In such a case, it’s always the person who claims the right to the last word. “If anyone has a problem with this, speak now, or forever hold your silence and accept the blame!”

The last guy to speak, decide or act, after everyone else has weighed in, is the guy who ultimately should take the blame.

Argue and debate all you want, about decisions, strategies, risks, next steps, who to hire, who to fire, when to roll out, how much to price, where to expand to next, what products to create, etc., but if you are arguing about the three things mentioned above, you better either know how to fix the boat or know how to swim.

Wanna share your co-founder conflict stories. Feel free. Post them in the comments’ section below. Till next time, adios!

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