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All organizations require healthy business practices to be successful. However, I have found that in family-run businesses there is an often unseen barrier – it’s the family!

Cousins, siblings, parents, grand-parents – I have not seen one company that does not have conflict with each other.

In my experience working with over a dozen family-run businesses, I have witnessed the following patterns:

Not All Family Members Take the Business Seriously

Some members see the company as a hobby – they see it as their birthright.  In this scenario, they take more risks, are not always aware or interested in understanding the impact of their decisions. They may or may not show up at the office or meetings, and they are often misaligned with the overall strategy. Other family members become exasperated with them, especially if they are trying to increase the company’s value.

Generational Differences Are Significant

Most of the companies I have worked with have at least two generations of the same family working together with the family patriarch directing from a distance. Each generation has its own way of operating, and they often don’t understand each other’s perspectives or values.

Family Dynamics Play Out in The Boardroom

The family relationships on a personal level show up in meetings. In coaching several family members, I have found that the conflicts cloud business reality. Lifelong communication patterns continue at work. For example, I have seen two cousins trying to make a decision and neither one respecting the other.ow II They failed to see what was in the best interest of the business and too busy criticizing each other or defending themselves.

What Has Worked?

I have mediated many a family conflict over the years and have witnessed different approaches to addressing challenges. Recognizing that every family brings an unique perspective and history, here are some of the strategies that have worked.

  1. Focus on the business need and the facts. Removing emotion and personal likes or dislikes assists in making better decisions.
  2. Re-establish direction, personal contribution and intention. When there are years of behavioral trends that play out and are counterproductive to the business take time to host strategic discussions about the future of the business and what steps or actions are needed to achieve the strategy. Conducting an assessment of each family member’s strengths and capacity to contribute helps to define how each person will participate.  Updates, measurement and declared accountability are also needed. Follow-up discussions with each family member on the outcome of the strategy discussion is helpful to remove any individual barriers or limiting beliefs that may exist.
  3. Nurture a desire to continue to be relevant and competitive.  The most successful family-run businesses are those who demonstrate a willingness to learn and expand their knowledge base. They meet with other successful business owners and research best practices to determine what is meaningful and applicable to their company. They have a desire to ensure their employees are growing and that they are delivering the highest standard to their customers.
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