The problem is partner conflict.
Unfortunately, the way partners typically deal with conflict is by…not dealing with it. Consciously or unconsciously, partners reason that if they ignore the problem, it will go away by itself.
Many years ago, my wife Ellen, a psychoanalyst, shared this with me: “Shoving problems under the carpet only creates lumps.” The problems don’t go away. Instead they fester and in many cases, leave deep scars that can never be resolved.
What kinds of conflicts are we talking about? Here are some examples:
- A managing partner with a dominating personality underperforms and habitually violates firm policies, feeling he is “entitled” to do so.
- A partner is a Lone Ranger; partners and staff never know their whereabouts or how to contact them.
- Older partners upset with younger partners for not bringing in business and wanting to be paid as if they did.
- A partner who does everything last minute has an argument with another partner who had a staff person pulled off his project to bail out the “last minute Charlie.”
- Some partners feeling that they never get the “better staff” assigned to their jobs.
Firms shoving problems under the carpet is something I’ve seen countless times at partner retreats. A sensitive issue, similar to those above, is “on the table,” but the majority of the partners don’t speak up. They don’t say a word. They have an opinion, but won’t admit to it openly. They keep their heads down, praying I won’t call on them and hoping we will quickly move to the next agenda item.
I recently discussed this with my friend and colleague, Jennifer Wilson of Convergence Coaching. She has a phrase for this: too many partners in the middle. When there is a conflict, the worst thing partners can do is be in the middle. How can sensitive problems be solved if most of the partners are silent? Partners need to have an opinion and it needs to be heard. If you see one of your partners behave inappropriately, as a partner, you owe it to your firm to take a position, and make your voice heard. This is a great example of peer pressure as a method of attaining partner accountability.
So, partners, take heed. Reduce partner conflict by never, ever being in the middle.