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  • Writer's pictureLauren Beriont

Conscious uncoupling: Embracing the natural life cycle of business partnerships

As a business owner, I've often encountered the prevailing advice to hold onto partners and clients for as long as possible once a contract is signed. While the value of longevity and stability resonates strongly in our work — to build trust, allow for creativity, establish a foundation of context — there are times when sticking to it just for the sake of sticking to it doesn't align with our values or the evolving needs of our partnerships. At EC, we've learned the importance of recognizing when it's time for a conscious uncoupling, even with partners we deeply respect and whose work we admire.

Here are four scenarios where embracing the natural life cycle of partnerships has proven beneficial:

  1. When there's a better fit elsewhere. Sometimes another consulting team may simply be better suited for a project. In our prospecting process we’re not afraid to refer potential partners to firms that align more closely with their needs or style. We’re surrounded by a field of brilliant evaluators, and it is okay if our style at EC, our issue area expertise, or our geographic locations don’t make sense for everyone or every project. 

  2. When the project needs different energy. In a recent conversation with a funder friend this came up for them as well; as hard as it is to admit low energy happens, it does. Have you been in a conversation with a partner where new ideas for the work in the future just aren't aligning or landing? Where energy or vision for a project begins to wane? I think wanting our partners and our team members to be enthusiastically participating in their work is an okay thing to desire, and it is also okay — although usually awkward — to have a frank conversation about bringing in new perspectives.

  3. When our role is no longer essential. In a period of a short-lived ebb, a retainer model makes sense. But if our partner is in a foreseeable long-term pause,  is capable of doing it on their own, or the work has come to a natural conclusion, then we want to be good stewards of resources. We’ve said to our partners, quite literally, “You don’t really need us anymore.” While it may seem counterintuitive, acknowledging this reality has created deeper trust between us and kept the door open for future collaborations. 

  4. When values aren’t aligned. In rare cases, fundamental differences in values can strain a partnership. Whether it's encountering dismissive behavior or witnessing values misalignment, we prioritize the well-being of our team and the integrity of our work. We address values misalignment head-on in ongoing work but have had to gracefully step away from partnerships when necessary. We continue to talk about the balance between our team's “hard nos” and where we’re willing and able to join our partners on their respective journeys of learning. 

It's important to consider the positive impact of normalizing breakups in our professional partnerships. By accepting uncoupling as part of our reality as consultants, with a posture of fairness and understanding, we pave the way for healthier endings and potentially more aligned and fulfilling work both for ourselves and those around us.

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