Cafe Witness

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Get By (Or Not) With a Little Help from Your Friends

Michael Bailey at MobaSoft has had a series of revealing blog posts lately.

In seasonal fashion, he's been working through the same late-winter blahs that affect most of us, and cause us to second-guess what we're doing and why. A few days ago, it looked as if he was getting ready to hang it up for good -- all before his product ever officially launched.

But now he's decided to carry on, albeit with a change of procedure: he's flying solo instead of working with friends.

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

It's a tough situation to work closely with friends because the lines between casual and professional interaction -- and expectations -- can become fuzzy.

- Friends may not do what you need them to do.
- Friends may not know what they CAN do, so they overinflate their value.
- Friends may take liberties that strangers wouldn't.
- Friends may not work as hard as strangers.
- Friends may not listen.

When it comes time to make hard choices, often it's the friendship that suffers more than the business. Any business can rebound from the loss of a single employee, no matter how integral he or she is to the business structure. But a friendship is between two people, and when the connecting lines have become tangled, severing one set often means you end up severing both.

Personally, on paper, I'd never advocate working with friends. And yet I continually work with friends and acquaintances on projects large and small. Why?

- Friends already "know" me, and are personally invested in seeing me / us succeed.
- Friends know people, and can introduce me to them.
- Friends take phone calls at 3 AM.
- Friends talk me down when the going gets tough.
- Friends understand that there's more to life than business.

But the most important reason I choose to work with people I know is:

- Success feels better with a team I cherish, and I already cherish my friends.

Come Together

Not everyone I work with is a friend, but almost everyone I work with BECOMES a friend. That's because I can't help but endeavor to make a connection with someone that extends beyond paperwork and deadlines. I want to RELATE to the people I like / admire / connect with, not simply be a name in their address book.

When I started Something to Be Desired, I did so with a few friends. We needed a larger cast, so they tapped a few of their friends. With rare exception, our initial cast was comprised of people 1 or 2 degrees away from me personally, which gave us a personal stake in the series' success.

Now, our cast is so large, I couldn't possibly be close friends with everyone. But that doesn't mean we're not all "close," in a way. When you're dedicating as much time and effort to a venture as the STBD cast is, you can't help but form the kind of bond you often hear about in film crews, bands and small businesses: we're a family. We may have black sheep, problem children and estranged cousins, but we're all in it together and we find a way to make it work.

The Long and Winding Road

Sometimes, despite everyone's best intentions, it doesn't work out.

Sometimes working with friends doesn't produce the desired results. In those cases, we're faced with a decision: accept the situation and learn to work within the new realm of (lowered) expectations, or cut ties (professionally) in the hopes of sticking to the original vision.

Your decision is based upon your own desire as a leader: is the success of your idea more important than the stability of your friendship?

Your answer will vary depending upon the issue at hand and the strength of the friendship. Sometimes you need to be willing to bend. Other times, you need to be willing to break -- up the partnership.

Ob La Di, Ob La Da, Life Goes On

Some friendships thrive on conflict. One promotional team we've worked with before is comprised of friends who drive each other crazy in their drive to get things done.

"So," I asked them last week, "when are you two moving in together to maximize productivity?"

"We're not," came the answer. "She yells at me too much."

It doesn't mean they're not friends -- they were sitting right next to each other and laughed, because they both know it's true. But they've identified where their boundaries between work and friendship lie. They know how to push each other's buttons just enough to get the job done without causing personal strife.

Find those people. Find those boundaries. Find something you want to create together. Go forward.

And, should your paths diverge, wish each other the best. Leave the communication channels open.

You never know when your paths will cross again.

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  • Your blog post is quite thought provoking and yes friendships can be highly unpredictable. Nevertheless, one does not survive without friends.
    Hop into my blog on friendship greeting cards for some beautiful e-greeting cards and friendly tips.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:14 AM  

  • It was really nice reading ur blog...good post and I do agree with the fact that u might sometime fall back in ur judgements but can never be a complete one without friends...its our duty to juxtapose between the good and the wishes :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:16 AM  

  • Great post Justin.

    I wish that my scenario did indeed fit into such a mold as the example(s) which you have used.

    However, things were a bit different and I'll just spare the details.

    One thing that I will pass along from some other experience of mine is when you find yourself getting into business with someone who is already your friend, put everything in writing.

    I will say that again, put everything in writing.

    If the expectations are written, instead of verbal, there's nothing to quarrel about later on down the line. You can both go back and review the original written agreement.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:59 PM  

  • This is a really timely post for me, Justin. I thought it was very thoughtful and gives me some things to think about from a business perspective. Thanks!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:46 PM  

  • Great post, Justin. While mixing work and friendship can pose challenges, close friendships can also enhance the workplace. See my article on this topic:

    I also blog about female friendships and wonder whether you have observed any gender differences.


    By Blogger Irene S. Levine, PhD, at 8:50 PM  

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