INSIGHTS

My business partner is lazy

If you type “my business partner is…” in the google search box, “… lazy” will be one of the suggested auto fills. Those suggestions are based on common searches, so if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, know that you’re not alone. Having a lazy business partner is a difficulty many cofounders face, but unfortunately, that does not make it easier to deal with. Communication and accusations surrounding perceived “laziness” can quickly escalate into tension and conflict, so you need to have a plan of action before you can take steps to rectify the situation.

There are a few action points you can take to both avoid a lazy business partner and elicit change from one. Preventative measures will always be preferred when it comes to the health of your cofounder relationship, so if you’re in a position to safeguard your business from an unmotivated business partner, then follow these helpful tips before you sign a partnership agreement.

How to Avoid Having Lazy Cofounder

When you’re searching for a business partner, you have to ask all the right questions to make sure you select the right one for you and your business. That includes asking for references; they can speak to the nature of your potential cofounder’s character, as well as their work ethic and behaviour. There are a few questions you can ask that will bring to light whether your potential cofounder is a go-getter, or takes a more laid back approach to business.

If possible ask for a reference from a previous employer and someone who can attest to their character, such as a close friend, mentor, religious leader, etc..

Suggested questions include:

  1. When given a task, did the candidate complete it early, on time, or late?
  2. Were there ever any issues with timeliness?
  3. Were there any issues with the quality of work?
    When left to their own devices, did the candidate show initiative?
  4. Did the candidate ever go above and beyond?
    Would you ask them back to your organization?


Here are some examples of questions to ask a character reference:

  1. Would you describe the candidate as a laid-back individual?
  2. Have you ever seen them start projects and not finish them?
  3. How do they spend their free time?
  4. Did you know them in school? How was their time management? Were they studious?
  5. Would you describe the candidate as a type A or type B personality?


If undertaking a project, what role would you put them in?

Asking your potential cofounder to take a personality test is also a great tool you can utilize. You’ll find that these tests are very valuable tools to understand one’s underlying tendencies as well as a way to lead discussions. For example, if you take a personality test that measures your “easy-goingness” levels, or “neuroticism”, you can ask if the candidate agrees or disagrees with their results, and why.

It is important to remember that your due diligence should evaluate your cofounder for a number of different qualities, skills, traits and habits. The list in this post only encompasses a fraction of what you should be focusing on. For a more comprehensive list of factors to consider when bringing on a cofounder, read The Cofounder’s Handbook: A Complete Guide to Starting, Building and Exiting a Successful Business Partnership, or sign up to take The Cofounder’s Discovery and The Cofounder’s Assessment at www.thecofoundershub.com.


I Am in a Partnership with a Lazy Cofounder

The above will not help you if you’ve found this article and you’re already in a partnership with someone you deem “lazy”. Here are some steps you can take to remedy the situation you’ve found yourself in, starting with a question you may, in your frustration, not have fully considered: are you sure they’re lazy?

Sometimes, our perception of someone’s workload or behaviour isn’t accurate when we ourselves are stressed, so we must test against this theory before we try to fix something that may not be the real problem. Accusing someone of laziness should be initiated with significant caution and it’s important to objectively undertake personal reflection before moving forward. What makes you think your cofounder is lazy? Here are some common reasons one could be considered lazy, and some counter arguments as to why they are acting in such a way.

  • I catch them in their office doing “nothing”.
  • They always do the bare minimum.
  • They don’t accomplish a lot on a workday.


If you perceive that your cofounder is not pulling their weight and are slacking on the job, determine whether or not you are truly seeing an honest reflection of their work day. Give them the benefit of the doubt for a second and consider: do you know all the intricacies and minutiae of their role? Do you know what it takes to complete even one of their tasks? Are you aware of everything that is on their plate? Perhaps they are not handing in deliverables every day, but only because a lot of their work consists of upkeep, management or maintenance. Or maybe you see them doing “nothing” in the office because they pushed through all of their tasks already and are taking a well-earned break.

If this version of events seems even remotely possible, a good way to check is to ask your cofounder about all that is on their plate. You may be surprised to learn that they are dealing with a lot more than you previously imagined.

  • They often miss deadlines.
  • They shy away from taking on new responsibilities/they delegate too many of their tasks.
  • Their tasks are completed in a sloppy manner.


These are surefire signs that your cofounder is lazy, right? Perhaps if you are able to put your knee-jerk reaction aside, you can ask yourself why they are displaying such evasive behaviour. Have they taken on more than they can chew? Are they struggling with the current workload? Do they feel ill-equipped to deal with the tasks at hand? One cofounder I interviewed had this exact experience. “I discovered that my partner had too much on their plate and was even working from home in the evenings to try and keep up.”

Most importantly, always aim for a solution. Partnership dissolutions are expensive and can have devastating consequences to the business; only consider it if you have no other option.

If this seems like a possibility, you should sit down with your cofounder and ask how they are finding their current role, if they need help, or even if the tasks are not challenging enough. If you ask the right questions, you may find that what lies at the root of the “laziness” is not a lack of motivation or ambition, but instead feelings of inadequacy and anxiety.

If that turns out to be the issue, this is your time to shine: show your cofounder support, share resources, and help them hone their skills. If those are not options, consider a role change. However, make sure you do not take on all of their tasks, and put yourself in a position where you will be overworked.

  • They never arrive early, or stay late at the office.
  • They’re too easy-going or have a “laissez-faire” approach to business management.


Have you considered that maybe you and your cofounder have different personalities, characteristics and values? If there is a mismatch in your core traits, you might be holding them to standards that they are unfamiliar with. For example, you might believe that “hard work” means coming in early every morning and leaving late every night, or you don’t mind giving up a few hours of sleep to get a task done. That does not mean that it is fair to hold your cofounder to the same standards you hold yourself, especially without a conversation about roles and expectations. Reflect on whether you are holding your cofounder to unfair standards, perhaps even ask a third party for their opinion.

  • They do things half-heartedly.
  • It’s like they don’t even care.
  • Their standards are set to “average at best”.


Are they still passionate about the business, your vision, the company message? Passion and drive often are found side-by-side in startups and the entrepreneurial journey, as passion is a great source of energy and excitement. If your cofounder is lacking in passion, that problem might have manifested itself as a lack of ambition, drive and energy.

Is there a way to reignite the passion in your cofounder? Perhaps a change in role might do them well, or a conversation about why you started this business in the first place. Talk about the vision of the company, and whether they are still satisfied with where it’s going. Take a trip down memory lane – remind each other where it all began and how far you’ve come!

If none of these thought fallacies apply to your situation, then it is time to move on to fixing the problem.

How to Fix it

Laziness stems from a place of unwillingness to put in effort. If you’ve determined that your cofounder is unwilling to work or put in effort that is up to your standards, it’s time to take a stand. Here are some action points you can implement to help you and your cofounder be on the same page again.

Redefine expectations

Cofounder disagreements can stem from a place of a simple misunderstanding. Set aside time to go through expectations with your cofounder; define them and make them concrete. Write them down in an official manner if you must, and sign your initials beside them. Your cofounder’s laziness might have been purely because they weren’t clear about what was expected of them. Give your cofounder the chance to redeem themselves by communicating exactly what level of commitment is needed for the business and the partnership to thrive.

Reassess Standards

As was mentioned earlier, perceived laziness can originate from a mismatch in standards between cofounders. Their “good enough” might look like “I barely tried” to you. Now is the time to define what standards you want every task to be completed to. If it is possible, make a note on every deliverable as to what standard you want this to be completed to; for example, whether you want to prioritise speed, accuracy or organisation. Guidelines will help you and your cofounder to be on the same page again. This exercise will be excellent for not only your cofounder but also to set standards for your executives and team members.

Push for accountability

Accountability will make people work harder and faster, generally speaking. People are more likely to slack if they feel like they are not being observed, as there is apparently no way that that poor quality work will reflect badly on them. Creating a system izzzn which you and your cofounder are constantly managing tasks and to-dos, and where you are able to access and view each other’s completed assignments, will help you keep each other accountable and on task.

Assign Tasks

Some people will not seek extra work if they feel like they have done their “fair share”. This is a personality trait that is neither good nor bad on its own, but might be frowned upon in entrepreneurship due to the driven nature of the business. If you’ve partnered with someone who does not have natural initiative, it’s not the end of the world – but it does mean that you’re going to have to assign tasks if you want them to be done. You can go a step further and ask your cofounder to be cognizant of all the tasks that have to be done, but are not currently assigned to anyone. Suggest that when either of you find yourselves having spare time, you will check this list and tackle one of these tasks.

Share Your Load

Perhaps you deem your cofounder to be lazy because you have too much to do, while they manage to finish their tasks leisurely and with time to spare at the end of the day. In which case, share your load with them. Be careful, though – this might lead to feelings of resentment from your cofounder if they feel like this setup is unfair, so make sure you communicate about your task loads before you start. The last thing you want is to give your cofounder your work when they’re already overwhelmed by their current workload.

Heart-to-heart

Lastly, if none of the above options work, have an honest conversation with your cofounder. Make sure not to use accusatory language, as that is a sure way to make someone defensive and unyielding. Start by asking how they feel about their current workload, if it is too much or too little. Ask if they have free time during the day, and compare it to how much free time you have (or don’t have). If one of you is struggling to stay on top of tasks and has no free time, while the other finishes everything with hours to spare, ask how they feel about sharing some responsibilities or rearranging how tasks are delegated.
If you have quantifiable evidence that your partner is slacking on the job, present this information to them. Make sure they understand how their unwillingness to put in effort is affecting the company (did an employee have to take over their task? Was the business late on deliverables and a customer complained?). Make sure to ask why they were unable to complete the task before you ask them to try harder or put in more effort – if they are paralysed because they feel unfit for the task, for example, this conversation could only make it worse.

Speak up now

Lastly, speak up now. Do not set a bad precedent for your partnership and company. It’s important that you and your partner are on the same page about how much effort is needed from the founders of the company, so make sure to address these issues before they have had time to solidify into long-term habits – those are very hard to break.

It didn’t work – now, what?

Say you’ve gone through every step outlined in this article, but your partner will not budge, what do you do? It’s time to bring out the big guns.

Partnership Agreement

Is there a clause on your partnership agreement that could be used to pressure your partner into putting in more effort? It may be that you two decided that founders would face a consequence if they did not uphold their end of the bargain. Make sure you come to this conversation with quantifiable evidence of your partner being unsatisfactory, as this is an aggressive approach and you can’t base it only on opinion.

Speak to your Lawyer or Mediator

This is a great time for a second and third opinion. Ask your lawyer and/or a mediator what they think about the situation, what can be done, and how they can advise you. It may be that they have just the advice you need, or see something in the partnership agreement that you’d previously overlooked.

Stay Solution-Focused

Most importantly, always aim for a solution. Partnership dissolutions are expensive and can have devastating consequences to the business; only consider it if you have no other option.

Let us help you!

Two thirds of businesses collapse because of partnership disagreements. If you’re in a cofounder partnership, you have to protect yourself from potential areas of conflict. With over 80 key conversations every cofoundership should have, let us ask the hard questions so you don’t have to. Sign up for The Discovery Session and The Cofounder Challenge and be proactive about the health of your cofounder partnership. Protect your investment and the future of your business.

The Cofounder's
handbook

An A-Z guide for those in, or searching for, a business partnership.

The Cofounder’s Handbook provides insight, practical advice, and proven tips from actual real-world cofounders on how to build and maintain a rewarding partnership.

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