- Elon Musk, Investor & Entrepreneur
In the business world, you’ll hear two answers to the big question: should you mix business and friendship? The answer will largely depend on the answerer’s personal experience. For instance, successful entrepreneurs who started companies with their best buds probably don’t think there’s an issue with mixing business and friendship.
On the other hand, professionals who eventually had to fire one or more of their friends may respond more negatively to the idea. So which should you follow? Let’s break down all the aspects.
BUSINESS AND FRIENDS – OPPORTUNITY FOR GREATNESS?
There’s no denying that going into business with your friends – whether that means starting a company with them or hiring them in some capacity – carries the potential for greatness. Not only is it fun to work with your friends, but such an arrangement can result in excellent workplace productivity and creativity.
Many of the best business duos or groups have been formed through friendships first. People who naturally have chemistry with one another will tend to bounce excellent ideas off one another more rapidly and easily. In the best cases, all this idea exchange results in a positive effect, producing top-tier business concepts or services that later become successful companies.
Furthermore, many people simply work well together as a result of their personalities and the inherent trust both parties carry because of their friendship. Such a business partnership may allow rapid-fire development and expansion compared to business relationships founded on practicality or mutual benefit.
LOTS OF TIME WILL BE SPENT WITH THEM ANYWAY
Regardless of whether you want to work with your friends, chances are you’ll make friends with at least one of your coworkers just from sheer proximity and time spent together. Indeed, many adults spend most of their working lives with their coworkers instead of other people.
So there is some logic to the idea that working with your friends makes the most of the above circumstances. If you have to spend most of your time working with a group of people, making them your friends will result in you being happier and more productive.
FRIENDS ARE MORE UNDERSTANDING THAN STRANGERS
Even the most successful professionals occasionally make mistakes. While a neutral party might fire you for a big mess-up, a friendly business partner might be a lot more forgiving. Though this forgiveness shouldn’t be abused or taken for granted, it’s undeniable that extra leeway from the bond of friendship can be useful for young professionals learning the ropes of entrepreneurship.
ISSUES FROM FAMILIARITY
While there are lots of benefits to working with friends, there are plenty of potential downsides. For every success story, there’s a horror story where friends started out working together, only for the friendship to collapse under the stress of starting a business or the mingling motivations of friendship, greed, and ambition.
SOMETIMES, PERSONAL DISTANCE IS BEST
Managers or other leaders of companies must be able to maintain some kind of objectivity and personal distance between them and their employees. This is still true even if an example CEO hired one of his friends as a worker.
For instance, managers occasionally need to provide feedback or coaching to their employees in order to get the best results out of their labor. This can be much trickier to do if the manager in question has to lecture their friend. The relationship may become awkward because of the different contexts it carries both inside and outside work.
In other cases, managers must occasionally fire employees who just don’t work out. This is already a difficult task, and it’s made even more so when the employee that needs to be fired is the manager’s friend. In some cases, this may result in a manager failing to do their leader’s duty. In others, it results in a lot of workplace drama that might leak out into the broader workplace culture, making things awkward and uncomfortable for everyone.
Friends who start businesses together might have a lot in common and think of things in the same way. Or they might be the opposite and think of things so drastically differently that the resulting company is a hodgepodge of different ideas and uncooperative strategies.
In such businesses, things rarely get done and productivity may slow to a crawl as a result of two managers or leaders who have drastically different visions of how things get done. It’s a classic example of the “too many cooks in the kitchen” idea.
While a little bit of iterative pushback and discussion is always valuable for any business, sometimes friends can be too familiar with each other and prevent any productive evolution.
There’s certainly something to be said for the hurt feelings that are much more likely to come about when you mix business with friendship. There’s almost no way to get around it; business is often a cold environment because people need to make the best decisions for their careers or their companies. These decisions are often at odds with what would make them or their friends feel better.
Consider the earlier example of the manager that may need to fire their friend. The bad feelings that could result from that action will likely have ramifications that expand far beyond the day or week. If the manager and employee didn’t know each other outside work, the bad feelings would likely still be there, but would be much more manageable.
BUSINESS AND FRIENDS OR BUSINESS WITHOUT FRIENDS?
Ultimately, whether or not mixing business and friendship is worth it is largely up to you and your relationship with your friends. Some friendships can certainly survive the stresses and complexities of working in business together, while others are better as off-work relationships where certain differences are allowed to remain unspoken.
We’d recommend treading carefully when considering mixing business with your friends no matter what. The truth is, it’s often impossible to fully know whether going into business with a friend is a good idea until you’re already knees deep in the process.
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Thought leaders & celebrities share their tactics for success on the Lisnic podcast by Lisa Teh & Nick Bell