What is a business partner?
You may have seen a job advert or seen the title in a persons LinkedIn profile. But in a nutshell the role involves a person who can bridge departments. They act as a glue to make sure teams avoid working in silo's, improve communications and can be the mediator to crack through conflict.
And most importantly, they can improve reaction times to changes in the business environment.
Why start a business partnering culture early on?
Let me clarify that, in the very early days, founders have to work so closely together, they are off course business partners. However, as scaling happens and new departments and specialist areas develop in different geographic locations, all of a sudden, it is hard to know what is going on.
Are the remote team getting updates on policies on time? Are some teams developing their own culture which is not in keeping with the businesses core values? Are there delays getting important data, reports and feedback?
To combat this problem organisations have developed the internal role of 'Business Partners' to bridge departments. However, those roles are created too late, resulting in more money and time required to pull departments together.
Therefore, why not be ahead of the curve as you scale and have a business partnering mind set instilled earlier. An old example of this is the John Lewis Partnership. As part of their original charter all employees had a say in the running of the business via committees. While their structure was cumbersome, there are elements to learn from.
By getting team members to think about their impact to the entire business you can improve moral as well as break-down a 'them and us' mentality.
It could be as simple as appointing a business partner per department or rotate that the role around the team. That way over time you can identify talent who can take on the role full time as your grow the organisation.
What elements to use?
1. Attend other department meetings. This could be sending any member of the team. They don't have to actively participate, but they could take a way useful clarification questions, or escalate points. Even explain why they have to do things a certain way.
2. Do role swaps. Encourage team members (within reason) to shadow a member of another team for the day. Great way to find out about the department and that reason why it takes longer than you think to get a report:)
3. Appoint team ambassadors. Sounds a bit naff, but once a month or once a quarter facilitate a way for representatives from different teams to discuss their challenges. See how they can work together to improve processes, roles etc.
4. Integrate into induction. Make sure people learn about other functions when they join the company and introduce them to key stakeholders. That way if they have an issue, they know who to go to.
5. Integrate into training. Start to equip team members with training around negotiations, mediation etc. That way provide the insights and support not to be afraid to ask questions and look for solutions with external team members.
6. Don't lose the art of talking. As companies grow the level of emails and official updates can get overwhelming. Therefore, have a rep per team that can get the updates and ensure these get communicated verbally.
Scaling can be turbulent, especially as so many things have to happen quickly, often with no time to have all the fine details set out. By encouraging teams to stay in touch and act as 'Business Partners' you can develop a business which is more resilient to change, able to pivot quicker and improve talent retention.