Not in Front of the Children….

The title of this blog post is taken from the 70’s BBC sitcom of the same name starring Wendy Craig as a dippy housewife; I suppose its 21st century equivalent would be Outnumbered. The premise of the programme that there are certain things that don’t need to be discussed when all family members are present.  I gather there is a Downton Abbey / Upstairs, Downstairs book called “Not in Front of the Servants“.

Since the very first practice that I joined as an associate to take over the book of a partner who left after a long battle involving barristers (what a waste of time and money) I have seen partnerships fall apart usually with the breakdown of previously good friendships. Frequently with no need.

I have been asked in the past by solicitors, “why can’t dentists get on with each other?” This isn’t the place to discuss that, but sometimes a certain amount of naivety about a long term commitment is to blame.

What made me think of this title was an experience that I had recently and it happens often enough for me to mention it here. When partners don’t get on it’s usually quite obvious to other team members and there is no reason to ramp up any tension by falling out publicly.

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So I have a few suggestions:

  • If you are involved in a business with someone else make sure that you are quite clear what both of you know, understand and agree about your business relationship.
  • A handshake isn’t worth anything and good intents are soon forgotten.
  • Take the time to draw up a contract detailing who does what, who owns what, who will earn what and why.
  • Equally, be clear about how either or both parties can terminate the arrangement – that’s what lawyers are for, use one who has experience of business partnerships.
  • Ensure that you meet regularly with a set agenda to discuss all elements of the business. No excuses, no postponements, no delays.
  • If necessary involve a third party to act as a non-executive director; if you’re looking for a suitable person look no further.
  • Leave your personal opinions at the door.
  • If there are problems with the relationship don’t moan about the other party to team members. It diminishes you, it unsettles them and does nothing to help the business.
  • If you are going to have a dispute then keep it until after “the kids have gone to bed”, i.e. either off site or when everyone else has left the building.
  • Don’t say anything about anyone that you wouldn’t say to their face. It undermines both parties. It’s unprofessional, unnecessary, unproductive and childish.

But….

If all else fails and you need a troubleshooter then I’m your man.

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