The New Letter, Vol.12
Compatibility is undervalued
A friend recently shared with me a four-phase framework for building sound relationships. I adapted the framework to co-founders and wrote a quick blog post on it below. I like thinking and writing about partnerships because I find relationship dynamics interesting, and, it also happens that co-founder and team conflict is the #2 reason startups die aside from market timing.
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Reads from the community 🗞
A piece on compatibility this week, full post below 👇.
Compatibility is undervalued
A friend recently shared with me the following 4-phase framework for building partnerships: (1) Admiration, (2) Chemistry, (3) Commitment, and (4) Compatibility.
Below is an adaptation of my friend's framework for co-founders. I've found choosing and managing partnerships in early-stage startups to be especially important. Good relationships drive incredible results, and bad relationships regularly kill startups.
A four-phase framework for building co-founder relationships:
Admiration - Thinking or feeling that someone will be a good fit. Whether it's a resume, skillset, or general vibe, you're interested in creating with this person.
Chemistry - Thoughts and feelings are mutual. You're both interested in working together. Early conversations and co-creation is going well.
Commitment - You've agreed to work on something together. It could be a problem space, a product, a company, or something else.
Compatibility - The ability to make new commitments consistently (i.e., workability) while maintaining high productive energy levels.
People generally overvalue the first three phases and undervalue compatibility. Being committed to something does not mean it's working. When something works, high levels of productive energy are the norm. Compatibility lets organizations evolve, and focusing on it can help assess the future value of the culture you are trying to create.
Compatibility = maximum workability at minimum energy spent
The ability to make new agreements in partnership = workability. These agreements can be day-to-day tasks like roles and project deadlines, or high-level decisions like equity and compensation. Compatibility is the ability to regularly craft these agreements (workability) while keeping high productive energy levels. It's like agility for relationships: the power to quickly change course to support the commitment.
Commitment vs. compatibility
Let's say that your co-founder consistently delivers work late. Presenting work late is an easy example because the expectation is clear — things are either delivered on time or not. Real business consequences arise when work is late. A new agreement is needed to turn things around. Agreeing to deliver work on time is a commitment.
Compatibility happens when new commitments come easy, at minimal energy spent. In startups, things change quickly and often. Speed and momentum are everything. Relationships that take too much work can be draining and steer things off course.
Compatible partnerships are energy-producing
Compatible partnerships are energy-producing. Incompatible ones are energy-draining — there's a level at which the amount spent working outweighs the reward.
But how does one measure how much energy is being spent, especially in the beginning, before working together? There's no perfect science, and everyone's different. Here are a few ways to think about mapping compatibility.
Focus on the facts and the data. Metrics in the business are either improving or not. The facts alone can tell the story of the partnership.
Ask whether you feel more energized or less from an interaction with a coworker. For me, the answer is almost always surprisingly clear.
Keep a partnership scorecard and use it to check-in regularly. The scorecard can contain data on the business (KPIs) and intangibles, too, like feeling energized or not.
When the facts or the scorecard are off-track, schedule a conversation as fast as possible. Create new agreements and get things back flowing.
If several attempts don't turn things around, choose to rework the partnership. Sometimes the best way to regain energy is to move on.
Focus on compatibility
Compatibility is the ability to create new agreements repeatedly while sustaining high levels of productive energy. Said more straightforward, compatible relationships work. Partnerships that lack compatibility are like cars that break down too much. Ones that work can swiftly change gears and keep moving.