Disputes between co-founders are the downfall of start-ups

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a startup founder who enlightened me about what he thinks kills startups: conflict at the co-founder level.

Disagreements about “who gets to decide what, who works harder or whose opinion matters most” threaten the company you are trying to build.

These issues facing co-founders can simmer slowly for months until they finally come to a boiling point. The stress of building and launching a scalable product, coupled with the challenge of finding the right way to communicate all these concerns without taking them personally, can put a strain on the relationship.

Before a disagreement destroys your startup, try mediation. Through an impartial third party founders get support in having conversations by looking at the problem in the following ways:

1. Separating the founders from the problem
It can be difficult to remain rational when discussing sensitive issues or problems. Like most people, founders can take things personally and become angry, frustrated or even resentful, leading to cognitive inertia (i.e. the inability to revise previous assumptions based on new information).

Mediation corrects assumptions like this by looking at business problems as interpersonal problems first. First, founders are recognised as normal human beings and their beliefs, viewpoints and expertise are acknowledged without judgement or blame.

2. Looking at interests, not positions
Mediation is a process of looking at interests rather than positions, and asking important questions to find out why someone wants something. Similar to the iceberg photo above, the mediator brings to light the interests of those involved, which then serve as the basis for the joint problem-solving process that the mediator uses to find solutions.

3. A collaborative problem-solving process
Similar to a brainstorming session, the mediator facilitates a collaborative problem-solving process based on the interests of all participants.
The mediator structures the conversation by reminding the founders once again of their perceptions and interests. This creates a set of options that the mediator and the founders work through to achieve an outcome that everyone is equally satisfied with.

Conclusion: Mediation helps founders involved in a disagreement by separating the parties from the problem, bringing to light their interests and the reasons why they want what they want, and allowing all parties to look at possible solutions without judging or blaming them. Don’t let a dispute between co-founders destroy your start-up – try mediation before it comes to that!

Mediation could save your business and allow the founders involved to get back to what they love most: working on their business!