Conflict is a difficult challenge inside every company, but what if the fight is between a sister and brother as part of a small business? With over 80 percent of U.S. businesses either family owned or controlled, this is a very common problem. Disagreement is one of the major reasons why only 20 percent of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership.
The structure of these types of businesses typically reflects how that family was originally “organized.” Many times, key management roles are filled based on family politics. The bully brother is the same manager who bullies his employees and other family members. The alpha female wants to tell everyone what to do. The peacemaker wants to smooth things over when tempers get hot. If the mother controlled the budget at home, she now wants to approve how every dollar is spent at the company. This not only tears apart the business, but the personal lives of the entire family.
While honest communication in a family business will always lead to some conflict, being able to “fight well” will help the company succeed over the long term. All members need to develop excellent communication skills and establish processes to resolve their internal business problems. In addition, they should understand their defined roles and responsibilities inside the company, not just the family.
What can a family do to ensure a successful business (and happy family)? Follow these steps and use these questions to resolve all conflicts.
1. Don’t start a discussion while emotional. This mindset isn’t a good starting point. Wait until everyone is calm so a clear and more objective conversation can take place. Ask: “How do you feel about discussing this now?”
2. Get on common ground. To find common ground, focus on what's currently going well with the company and what are the areas of weakness. Keep this general and emphasize areas of agreement. Ask: “Where are things going well in this company and where can we improve?”
3. Identify the real issue. Find what the argument is really about. This can be difficult because it may be wrapped up with emotions or personal things that happened in the past that have nothing to do with it. In family businesses, there is a temptation to share “dirty personal laundry” and draw those things into the argument. Ask: “What business issue are we really disagreeing over?”
4. Decide what success looks like. Each person should suggest a solution and its expected results. Many times there is agreement on the goal, but not on the specific tactics to achieve it. Ask: “What does success for the company on this issue really look like?”
5. Talk about the consequences. The side and ripple effects of not solving an issue can cause a company even more damage than the original problem. Ask: “What are the short- and long-term effects if we don’t agree on how to move forward?”
6. Agree on roles. Most problems in family business are a result of a lack of clearly defined roles and job descriptions. Establishing these upfront will help make decisions easier in the future. Ask: “Who is going be responsible for these tasks?”
7. Set deadlines. This is as important as the tasks that are to be completed. Jobs not done on time are not useful since most actions inside a company are interconnected. Ask: “When can we all agree this will be completed by?”
At the start, this process will be hard to do alone within the family. Bring in a neutral third party to monitor it. This should be someone that both sides can trust and is not vested in a particular outcome.
How well do you fight in your family business?
Read more articles on family businesses.
Photo: Getty Images