Partnerships: the power and the perils


I find the contrast between two dentist-partner owned practices I work with at the moment fascinating and I thought the comparison might offer a nice illustration of how powerful a good partnership can be and how counterproductive a bad partnership can be. (And those of you who know me well know that I have been involved in some very successful partnerships during my working life together with some spectacularly unsuccessful ones, and so I feel I have something useful to say on this!)

The successful partnership 

This two-dentist partnership is a true meeting of minds. The partners are friends, having met at university, and so they are a similar age and at a similar life stage. They share a vision of the future for their practice and they both see the need to invest in this future. They easily agree on: how much money they need to draw from the practice (the same for both before lab bills) and how many hours, days and weeks a year they want to work. They split the leadership role, having clearly defined responsibilities and they meet often (weekly) and talk about everything so that nothing has a chance to fester.

The unsuccessful partnership

This three-dentist partnership has come about, like many, by accident. One of the original partners sold to a new (much younger) partner in order to retire. The remaining partners now have a new partner to accommodate and get on with. They try their best but, in truth, they are at such different life stages and have such different values and needs that it is unlikely they will agree on a short or long term vision for their business. They meet rarely, disagree about money and about the length of a working day/week/year. Having agreed a strategy, one will often decide later on that they no longer agree and do their own thing, sometimes without the others knowing. It seems inevitable to me that it will end in tears.

What happens when it ends in tears?

I have seen many post-divorce scenarios but perhaps the commonest is when one partner takes his patients and moves out, leaving the remaining partner with a substantially reduced practice and the same overheads. This is often followed by a war over patients and a marketing feud. Sometimes the ex-partners are heard condemning each other and reputations suffer. The worst case scenario is that patients, sensing the discord, avoid both partners/practices and both practices shrink some more. There’s little in the way of good to come out of this except that the partners no longer have to tolerate each other.

The formula for a successful partnership

I believe there are some basic indicators which will predict whether your partnership will be successful. Here’s my list:

  1. Shared values
  2. Shared vision for the future
  3. Similar life stage and age
  4. Similar work ethic
  5. Similar financial needs
  6. Ability to give and take (sometimes one will work harder than the other and vice versa, because stuff happens)
  7. Desire to sell together (it’s hard now to sell a partnership; buyers generally want the whole practice)

And make sure that you trust them as much as you trust your life partner, like them (a lot), and that you are prepared to watch their back and happy to have them watch yours.

The formula for a failed partnership

You might want to think twice about jumping into a partnership with certain types. Here’s a few:

  • Folk who want to work seven days a week. It means they have no life outside business that they truly care about, or that they are just focused on money and they will never have enough.
  • Folk who have lousy follow-through. They will take forever to do their share or not do it at all.
  • Folk who are scared of either life or business. You will never grow a practice with them.
  • People who count all the time. (The “I’m bringing in more gross/patients/skills than you are” type folk.)
  • Folk who are self deluders/have a skewed view of their ability/importance.

If you would like some help or advice with your partnership, please contact me for a chat:


m. 07770 430576

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