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As a relatively new small business entrepreneur who works with co-owner partners, and who manages the business hands-on, I’ve learned significant lessons that I wish to share in this article.

When I worked under multinational companies, I managed many internal and external stakeholders but at the end of the day I was an employee with a managerial position. I could usually switch off during weekends and vacations, except when there were deadlines and conference calls. I could take home a regular salary, enjoy benefits and get bonus. I also developed competencies and grew professionally from the career opportunities provided to me, with the positive attitude I adopted and a great working environment I was blessed with.

Since I have gone into my own training and management consultancy, and recently into food and beverage business, I’ve been operating on a completely different mode. I no longer enjoyed all the things I used to enjoy as an employee, but I learned and gained many other things ~ taking risk and having confidence in our imperfect plans, balancing the business decisions with the impact of such decisions on our projects and teams, and collaborating steadfastly with my business partners. It has not been easy but it has certainly been enriching my capacity, wisdom, experiences and life.

In this article, I wish to focus on my learnings from collaborating with partners to succeed in our business venture. There’s probably nothing new that you have not heard from other entrepreneurs but my list of two refreshes or validates what every owner, from the biggest to the smallest businesses, have shared. You might also find these learnings relevant in your respective corporate jobs, as the ability to collaborate has become a critical success factor in today’s workplace.

Learn to play like an orchestra. In partnership, I have to be in tune with my partners constantly. I have to respect my partners’ voices. Setting the roles and responsibilities upfront is key. But ambiguities do happen, and we have to continue playing beautiful music together. Who’s the main conductor? In equal partnership, we all are – and that becomes the challenge and the opportunity. Disagreement is part of the wonderful diversity and synergy that we have. We always have to talk and find a common ground. Unwritten rules in conflict resolution are automatically drawn.

Sometimes, the hard part to deal with is the emotional investment, aside from the financial investment. I’ve learned to step back, use a lot of empathy, self-control and all the dimensions of emotional intelligence. In its simplest definition, collaboration means “the actions of working with someone to produce something.” I constantly remind myself that like an orchestra, we have to play (work) together to produce a beautiful musical concert (business).

Treat it like a life partnership. I’ve been married close to 22 years, and indeed a business partnership could feel like being married to my partners – in terms of the communication and commitment the business takes to make it work. It is about shared control, shared failures, and shared successes. It’s not about who is right or wrong, who did more or less, or who’s to blame. It’s about working together – through thick or thin, in sickness or in health – to make it succeed.

I recently read a phrase “reciprocity without accounting”, which struck me as it perfectly described the kind of sacrifice, generosity and humility needed to keep going with a business partner. It’s also about having a lot of fun and love in the process ~ like in marriage. Commitment, fun and love are key ingredients to sustain the business for the long-term.

Have you been collaborating with business partners, or with stakeholders in a company? What is one key lesson you have learned that has strongly impacted your professional or entrepreneurial development and growth? Share here and let’s learn from each other.

Note: This article was also published in LinkedIn and was featured in their Entrepreneurship & Small Business section. It was also featured in “Forum for Women Entrepreneurs”  blog section.

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