Growing your business with other people involved

Through our Compass Meeting on 14 June 2012, (Agenda for Compass Meeting #7) and various online discussions, we’ve spent the last two weeks exploring and developing the theme “Two from the top please Carol”. It has been an enlightening and interesting exploration of essentially what is required at the top of a growing SME to make it successful in the long-term.  What seems to have emerged from the discussion are two choices and some tricky middle ground:

  • The original theme highlights one of these – partnership and the ever evolving fusion of two distinctly different but connected parts.
  • The debate put forward the second choice – strong leadership backed up by an employed but committed and empowered management team.
  • And, the conversations unearthed the middle ground – a strong individual trapped between a desire to delegate and a fear to let go.

Partnership in its truest sense

By partnership, we essentially mean two (maybe three) people who provide the ying and yang described in “two from the top please Carol”. Amongst this population we hear some common phrases:

  • “we are not the most natural fit with each other – on paper it shouldn’t work”
  • “I wasn’t sure if I could trust him to begin with but I began to realise that he delivered on what he said he would do and the trust built from there”
  • “sometimes it feels like the staff treat us a bit like mum and dad – going from one to the other until they get what they want – but we’ve learnt to adopt a united front in public and ensure  our strongest debates happen in private”
  • “we are really clear on the goals and the direction – the constructive debate comes in how we get there”
  • “it really is a partnership of equals in every sense – when he says something I know there must be something in it, even if I can’t see it straightaway”
  • “we are very lucky to have found each other”

For this approach: perhaps the greatest strength is someone who is there to bounce ideas off, share the burden and reap the rewards together? And the greatest weakness is the lack of ease with which you can bring others into this dynamic duo environment?

Reflecting on the feel of the partnership, it seems to have an informal and organic nature – a relationship that has developed over time with firm roots that allows it to sway in the breeze.

Strong leadership supported by strong management team

In this scenario the same ying and yang is achieved through different means. There is a clear and strong leader and a loyal serving management team. The leader owns the direction and the vision, management the implementation and resource. The collective of the management team challenges the leader on the direction and vision, whilst the leader holds the management team to account.

Whilst we did not explore this in depth during the conversation, we have previously heard comments like:

  • “it is my business and whilst I am willing to share in the success I am clear that is my business”
  • “we are really clear about roles – the management team know what decisions they are empowered to make and when they need to involve me”
  • “we spend two weeks of the year out of the business developing, agreeing and monitoring our plans to achieve the vision”

For this approach, perhaps the strength is a sense of security and knowing where you stand? And, the weakness that you never fully empower people to take the lead?

Reflecting on the feel of the relationship, there seems to be a stronger sense of formality – structured planning processes, a clear delineation of role descriptions and a team process that works.

Consistent in both worlds

In reality, these two worlds have a subtle difference and essentially achieve the same result. The success of each appears dependent upon some common elements:

  1. Sounding board for leadership – inside or outside the business
  2. Absolute clarity on the future direction and needs of the business
  3. Self-awareness in leadership’s strengths or weaknesses
  4. Willingness to work with people who are better than you
  5. Time to explore and have the debate
  6. Evolving a sense of trust – delivery on promises
  7. Two-way street – the interdependent ability to unlock and work with diverse points of view

Avoiding the trap

During the rewriting of this theme, we were reminded of Katzenbach and Smith’s work on the Wisdom of Teams and their exploration of working group or team.

Perhaps the dangerous middle ground is reflected by an ambitious business owner struggling with the transition of holding individuals accountable for their roles and wanting the team to work together?

As ever with these themes, we often seem to rediscover learning through the ages and apply it to a specific context – after all, two heads are better than one and too many cooks spoil the broth! And, elements of this certainly appear to be reinforced by others.

So, if you are an ambitious business owner looking to grow your business and achieve enduring success, some important questions worth asking are:

  • To what extent do you have ying and yang represented in your business?
  • What are you doing to contribute to (or hinder) a sense of partnership or team?
  • How will you create a strong sense of common purpose, values and vision with the people that are critical to the long-term success of your business?
  • How can you make more of the difference that resides within your partnership or team?
  • Who is your unbiased sounding board?

If this theme, or others have interested you and you would value exploring it further, please do not hesitate to contact us For more information, click here.

About adampscampbell
Passionate about helping ambitious business owners to create sustainable success. For information on our work with our broader client base please feel free to look at the website To connect more with our work with ambitious business owners follow me @adampscampbell or connect at

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