6 Elements of a Successful Relationship Contract

Relationships are rarely easy, but business relationships can be particularly precarious.  However, with some foresight and intentional planning, solid, collaborative business partnerships can be the key to an organization’s success.

The intentional planning we refer to is called a relationship contract.

Just like any relationship, no two relationship contracts are the same.  But there are a few standard components that every such contract should include, or at least consider.  As a starting point, here are 6 elements of a successful relationship contract:

  1. Define the Purpose of the Relationship – Specifying what tasks each member of a partnership will agree to is important, but defining WHY the partnership exists in the first place is critical.  This initial step lays the foundation for every decision in the future.  Environments will change, priorities will shift, and individuals will evolve. But, the purpose of the relationship, the reason for being, must remain steadfast.  Tactics and approaches can and should be in a constant state of challenge and discussion, but core missions, like “to provide our customers with exceptional service” or “to provide our employees with unfaltering support” or “to form a more perfect union” remain unwavering.
  2. Define what you need from the relationship – Once you have a clear vision of your relationship’s mission, it’s time to identify what you need personally.  In business, this may include elements as process-specific as reports and deadlines, to things as universal as the ability to speak openly in a safe environment.  This is a time to reflect on both positive and negative past relationships and experiences.  What does a successful relationship look like to you? What do you expect from your partner?  What aspects are you willing to share with outside associates, and what requires discretion? Are there timetables in place? How do you prefer to receive information? How will you agree to deal with opposing ideas and strategies?  What method will employ to overcome obstacles and deadlocks?
  3. Define what your partner needs from the relationship – this is the same as the previous step, but from the other person’s perspective.  Be active with your partner in identifying his or her needs so that there are no assumptions. Dealing with certain matters “in a timely manner” may mean something different to you than to someone else, so push specifics.  Understand clearly how your partner envisions the partnership looking and how that ties in with the guiding purpose of the relationship.  Is your partner a phone, text, or email person (or all of the above)? How does he or she define trust – and how can you provide it? How does your partner prefer to receive criticism or bad news?  Identify all of the possible obstacles now, so when you encounter them you have a game plan lined out.
  4. Define what you will do and when you will do it – Now that you’ve identified the purpose of the relationship, and specified your vision and expectations, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Name the activities for which you have accepted responsibility, and the time frame in which you will complete them.  Mark due dates on your calendar, and assign specific responsibility if those tasks fall to a team member under your supervision.  Cover all logistics: people, materials, machines, tactics, and timelines.  Spell out success measures.  How and when will you know if you need to regroup and reassess your strategy? Schedule check-ins and identify milestones.  Be sure everything you agree to is practical, and able to be accomplished.
  5. Define what your partner will do and when – this is the mirror to the previous step.  Again, work closely with your partner on this list and ensure that between the two (or more) of you, that all the relationship’s needs are being addressed.  Look for equality in task division.  Make sure your responsibilities are clearly defined and integrated.
  6. Commit – This is the easiest step in the short run, but the most demanding in the long term.  Commit to your partner, your relationship and its purpose, your commitments and expectations.  Be prepared for obstacles and challenges, and commit to overcome them with your partner.  Commit to a relationship of trust and communication, and expect the same in return. Relationships are rarely easy, but with the aid of a thoughtful, tactical, and robust relationship contract that is mutually beneficial to all involved parties, the relationship will begin on solid footing, and have greater success at navigating the difficult times.

Xponents has a program, Creating Collaborative Partnerships, that teaches a model for developing relationship contracts.