How Kickball Applies to Strategic Alliances

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

The ways to part company, the what ifs, and the how’s relating to “exit strategies” for business partnerships, strategic alliances, and other collaborative relationships can seem like the proverbial cold shower, dampening all ardor for a deal.  But maybe there’s another way to look at it — like the rules of a game that ensure a fair playing field.

Do you remember playing kickball at recess on the school playground?  Did you start the game and then determine where the base lines were?  What counted as a foul?  When and how you could be thrown out?  Of course not.  In order for everyone to play fair, you needed to set the rules beforehand.  This gave all players a sense that the rules were impartial and would be applied equally.  If you started the game and then decided how the players could be called “out,” the park would resound with cries of “Cheater!” and “Do over!”  If the matter didn’t get resolved, chances are that pandemonium would erupt, resulting in the immediate end of the game.

The world of business is not so far removed, except that entrepreneurs tend to resolve their differences in court, not in fisticuffs.  But I think the underlying concerns and desires are there:  the willingness to take a risk (and “play the game”) as long as they know what to expect and that they are treated fairly.  When collaborating with another company, business owners want to know what will happen to the clients, intellectual property, and flow of money that the strategic alliance creates, for however long the collaboration lasts.  Deciding those issues only when they arise is like catching the kickball in mid-air and only then deciding whether the kicker should be “out.”

One side or the other will be extremely unhappy with the result.

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