There are no two solutions – successful partnerships are built on trust. When trust exists between partners, you can create more collaborative relationships that align on overall goals so that all parties can achieve the outcomes they want.
Through a business relationship built on trust, partners can remove the often hostile mentality that exists in the business world and ultimately achieve greater results. Needless to say, the role of trust is well worth further research—especially so you can improve trust with your own partners.
Assessing the components of a trusted business partnership
Research with my colleagues Karl Manrodt and Gerald Ledlow has helped us identify five fundamental elements that must exist in healthy business partnerships built on trust. These traits are focus (or the ability to develop a shared purpose and sense of direction), effective communication, team orientation, innovation, and performance trust (or keeping promises).
With these attributes in mind, we then developed a performance assessment tool that both suppliers and buyers use to rate how they view themselves and their partners. Any gaps that exist between partners’ perceptions of the relationship can quickly and easily identify issues that are undermining trust and creating inconsistencies in the partnership.
When you identify these gaps in your business partnership, there are some actions you can then take. You can take steps to repair trust and improve relationships. Or you can use it to identify when there is too much disagreement between partners to continue the relationship.
Either way, leveraging your understanding of trust gaps can prove to be the key to better business partnerships. Trying to continue building a partnership that cannot be salvaged in terms of trust is in no one’s interest in the long run. Everyone’s interests would be better served by reaching a mutual agreement to end the partnership and find a more closely aligned partner.
Cultural fit is more important than you might expect
One factor that stood out in our research was the importance of cultural fit. In business partnerships, this can largely be seen as the need for organizations to have a similar view of how to communicate and make decisions.
However, cultural fit can also be used in a similar way to when hiring a new employee – look for partners who share your organization’s core values. Born Primitive, a veteran-owned fitness apparel brand that focuses on causes related to veterans and first responders, is a good example.
Bear Handlon, co-founder and CEO of Born Primitive, explained:
“From the day we started the company, we knew we wanted to focus on supporting those who serve our country. This has influenced everything we do, from the way we market our brand to the types of charities we support. This That’s why we’re donating $100,000 of our Veterans Day weekend profits to veteran-related charities. Knowing who we are and being honest about who we are is key to connecting with like-minded customers and partners. Quite simply, we don’t want to People who don’t share those values work together because we know it won’t work in the long run. But when we work with people who share those values, we’re more committed to maximizing outcomes.”
This cultural alignment is key to maintaining strong relationships between business partners and ensuring full buy-in from all parties. When partners share the same goals, values, and vision, they are more inclined to work together to overcome organizational or structural barriers to a trusting partnership.
Becoming a Vested Interest in the Partner’s Success
Perhaps one of the biggest trust-related issues affecting a successful business partnership is when the partners are truly focused on achieving a win-win outcome. Ideally, partners should use a “vested” partnership model, where both parties are invested in the partner’s success—not just their own.
The point of creating these win-win situations is to create mutual benefit and create value for both parties. The point is not to try to gain an advantage over your partner, but to create a situation that is beneficial to all, where all parties gain something meaningful. The point is not to try to extract concessions from partners, but to solve problems together.
With this mindset, the results can be truly transformative — like how Microsoft earns 95 percent of its commercial revenue through the partner ecosystem, or how 94 percent of tech executives tell Harvard Business Review that innovation partnerships are critical to their business. Strategy matters.
Such an outcome can only occur when both partners in the partnership genuinely believe that their partner is also capable of achieving their goals. Focusing on building mutually beneficial relationships will build a solid foundation of trust.
Decisions that increase trust
Mistrustful business relationships can be repaired, and strong relationships can grow even stronger when you increase trust. However, whether your business will increase trust with your partners does not happen by accident.
As my own research has discovered, trust isn’t a vague concept—it’s something that can be quantified and improved. By prioritizing trust among partners as part of strategic development, you and your partners can identify key actions that will lead to improved trust and outcomes.