Over the past few years some of the biggest names in architecture have brought their firms together in order to secure a growing number of high profile international projects. It has led to some unusual partnerships, such as Norman Foster and Frank Gehry’s combined effort for the redevelopment of Battersea Power Station in London and Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind’s ecclectic community of homes in Milan.

While a select pool of ‘starchitects’ can afford to create such partnerships almost at whim, it sets a poor example for the rest of the architecture industry. On the surface, many of these star-studded joint efforts seem to have little to do with synergy or common goals and values. They are often just big names on the marquee attached to glitzy, overly-funded projects. Like the stuff of tabloids, when these frivolous matches don’t work out, all we can do is knowingly roll our eyes.

But smaller firms simply cannot afford to follow in their footsteps. The wrong venturing partner can destroy individual brand equity, and a poor setup could lead to gross inequality in terms of compensation, input, and liability in the evident of a major error or setback.

Getting a Joint Venture Right Means Building a Good Foundation

On the other hand, small architecture and design firms cannot go it alone. Today, a firm’s ability to secure work is often directly tied to the quality of their partnerships with other firms and contractors. This is the direct result of vast improvements in communications and information sharing technology as well as the falling away of geographic barriers to entry. This past decade had also seen major advancements in construction and design technology. In short, projects are getting bigger, higher, and more elaborate, and they often involve the input of extensive multinational teams.

Joint ventures can help a company get a leg up over their competition and allow them to overcome the very real risks associated with larger, complex projects in an international market. The benefits of extended market reach as well as the combined resources, experience, and talent make joint ventures seem like a no-brainer. For these reasons, there has been a significant rise in joint ventures among architecture and design firms- both for one time projects as well as long-term collaboration across numerous joint assignments.

But, many architects and design professionals approach joint venturing far too casually, and while there has been a lot said about joint ventures, most of the attention has been heaped upon the “marriage contract”- all the logistical, financial, and legal issues that tend to crop up.

These are important points for sure, but just like any relationship without a certain level of chemistry and the sharing of some core mutual values, the chances for success are slim. The reality is that over half of joint ventures will likely end in failure within five years. That’s worse than the Australian divorce rate.

For this reason, it is extremely important that senior leadership make the effort to research and understand any key potential partners before an agreement is made. Who is running the firm? Who are they as individuals? Can they be trusted? What are their core goals and values? How do they operate, and what does their corporate culture look like? Though it may be hard to put a number on any of these qualities, they are often the ones that make all the difference between a good joint venture and a bad one.

Joint ventures aren’t just about collaborating firms; at every level they involve collaborating teams of people. Aside from the creation of a clearly defined, agreed upon, and documented strategy, successful joint ventures recognise and prioritise the people factor, and they are committed to making the relationship work from the inside out.