Avoiding the Abyss in Partnership Meetings
Some partnership meetings are great; others are a catastrophe. Ten quick productivity boosting tips
I have spent much of my career in partnership meetings, representing both small startups and big corporations, including Microsoft, Google, and Slack. Some of these meetings generated a lot of value; others were a total catastrophe. Each was a learning experience. Here’s what I learned.
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1. Predefine Goals . Many of the meeting requests and invitations I receive begin with the inadequate “we are seeking mutual collaboration.” Understand what you want to achieve from the potential partner and in the specific meeting and be precise.
2. Study Your Partner. At Microsoft, I used to write a WIIFM—What’s In It For Me—for each of the potential partners I would meet. Understanding your partner's motivation is as important as understanding your own.
3. Bring the Right People. I once attended a meeting where the other side wanted to talk about the legal aspects of the partnership, and boy, was that awkward. Not having the right people in the room can lead at best to awkwardness, and at worse, and much more often, to chaos and confusion. When discussing technical issues, bring a tech expert; if there are financial concerns, bring your financial expert.
4. Always Be Communicating. Make sure the other side understands you, and confirm that understanding in writing. Be forthcoming with issues, and figure problems out together. There are a few special cases where you would want to protect the relationship from internal noise, but in general, clear and transparent communication is the best approach. A good example of transparency is our open platform roadmap.
5. Don’t Assume. Any and all assumptions should be confirmed with the partner. Asking “does your API support X,” costs nothing; Building X under a false assumption can be costly.
6. Listen. Even when asked to present or lead the conversation, listening and asking questions is usually the best course for collaboration. A well-structured and well-timed question can put the conversation on the right track, and even prompt the other side to suggest a course of action that would be rejected had you suggested it directly.
7. Don’t Get Derailed. Follow the agenda. Meetings can easily become an easy way to kill time. If the legal team wants to talk about the contract, while your agenda is all about product collaboration, feel free to suggest an additional meeting to discuss that subject.
8. Be Respectful. I have seen a good business development manager defuse a difficult tech conversation by calmly assuring the team that we were all striving for the same goal.Your partner might not be from the same culture as you, or they might be used to a different work environment and communication style. Being respectful and courteous takes little effort and usually yields positive outcomes.
9. Avoid the Abyss. Partnership meetings can be a dead end, but more often they fall into the “that was nice” abyss. Be sure to come up with an action item.
10. Follow up. The best business-development people I worked with always followed up with a communication that summarized their understanding of the meeting; what was discussed, and what action items were decided upon. They also made sure action items were acted upon.
Bonus Tip. When discussing this article with my friend Jassim Latif, head of Platform Business Development at Slack, he added that choosing the right meetings is also very important. The time spent on a low-impact meeting is the same as the time you spend on a high-impact meeting. Make sure you choose the latter.