Here's How People Successfully Work With Friends, Family and Even Their Spouse

The key to a happy life: Clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
Here's How People Successfully Work With Friends, Family and Even Their Spouse
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This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When I say that my wife and I wrote a novel together, people’s first reaction is almost universal: “You’re still married?” The idea seems terrifying -- but we loved it. The project took us three years, and though we had disagreements along the way, we kept each other motivated and focused. (And it’s coming out this October! It’s called Mr. Nice Guy.) If it worked for us, I suspect it could work for many entrepreneurs. Ambition can be a lonely road. Isn’t it nice to have support?

Related: The Science Behind Working With Your Spouse

This got me wondering: How many people work with friends and family -- and how’s it going for them? To find out, Entrepreneur partnered with SurveyMonkey Audience to survey 1,007 people across America. The first big revelation: It’s actually quite common. Of our respondents, 78 percent said they’d worked with a close friend, family member or significant other.

Here’s what else we learned.

1. Most people partner with close friends

Of our respondents who worked with someone close to them, 67 percent said they’d worked with a friend. That comes as little surprise, of course: Most people have more friends than family members, and the risk is lower -- a ruined friendship is sad, but not as traumatic as a ruined marriage. That’s why the next-largest group is a little surprising: It’s a combined 43 percent of people working with their significant others (27 percent with a spouse and 16 percent with another kind of partner). And then we get into family: 24 percent worked with a parent, 23 percent with a sibling, 19 percent worked with another kind of family member and 8 percent with a child.

2. Most say it’s a good experience

Sure, working with someone close to you can be fraught, but the overwhelming majority of people we surveyed were happy: 87 percent of respondents said that working together was a positive experience, and 41 percent said it even strengthened their relationship. They listed many advantages to working together. The most popular: You’re already comfortable together. The second-most popular: You already trust each other. (But, uh, only 43 percent said that “spending more time together” was a benefit!)

Related: I Co-Founded a Startup With My Best Friend: How to Balance Friendship and Business

3. Yes, there are disadvantages

Not everyone was happy about their partnership. Of our respondents, 14 percent said it pushed them apart, another 15 percent said it permanently damaged a close relationship and 8 percent said they’ve left a job because of an argument with a close friend or family member. And regardless of if they had a good or bad experience, most people agreed there were some serious downsides: 59 percent of people complained about a lack of separation between work and personal life, and 56 percent were worried about the potential to damage their relationship. They said the worst thing to do together was have an employee/manager relationship (awkward!). The second worst: making financial decisions.

4. There are strategies for making it work

Plenty of them! Here are the strategies for making it work. 

Establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities: 68 percent

Allowing for constructive criticism: 65 percent

Respecting confidentiality: 53 percent

Setting aside time outside of work to spend with each other: 48 percent

Respecting financial arrangements: 34 percent

Not making any exceptions to rules: 35 percent

Establishing a process for an exit: 24 percent

Related: 7 Businesses That Were Founded by Good Friends

And finally, here’s perhaps the most valuable statistic: 72 percent of people said that working with a close friend, family member or spouse helps the work that they do. Every entrepreneur is looking for an edge. According to our survey, that edge just might be closer than you think.

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