Being in business with family can and will provide for a variety of challenges. Maintaining familial relationships while dealing with the vagaries of business are not easy and require skills many of us don’t come by naturally. Far too often this leads to an escalation of destructive conflict, and when that happens nobody wins.
For the most part life begins with a parent/child relationship. Typically this is a time when parents try to influence and mold kids in learning about life, how to survive and thrive. At times, particularly during the teenage years, the parent/child relationship goes through significant tensions where kids are seeking their own independence while parents are concerned and try to maintain control. It can become a juggling act to provide a child with roots but also wings.
As children mature into young adults, work with their parents, and ultimately become involved in the family business a significant paradigm shift must occur. There needs to be a shift from the parent/child relationship to a time of working together in harmony, as partners with a keen awareness and understanding of each other.
As I work with families in dealing with and understanding their differences I see a variety of approaches. Some feel they can fight their way to an understanding, not going to happen, while others are more proactive and begin the conversation at an early stage to ensure harmonious relationships to weather challenges as they arise.
Obviously there are various advantages and disadvantages to families working together in business. It is important to identify what they are in a clear, concise and honest conversation prior to formalizing the relationship as this allows for the establishment of policies which will address future conflicts in the most effective way.
Aside from personality differences, attitudes, perceptions, communication styles, and conflict management styles that there are in any business relationships, the family business relationship has added challenges that come into play. There are generational differences that create potential conflict. It is quite interesting to observe a difference of values and priorities between my generation (Baby Boomer) and that of my kids (Generation Y).
The previous example exemplifies the conflict that can occur. It’s not that one party is right and the other wrong, but rather differences that need to be addressed and talked about so that there is full understanding of how the business will operate in that culture of differences. . Tensions arise when people are not aware of these differences and conflict becomes destructive and destroys families and businesses. Having policies in place that address each person’s values provides for the opportunity to build on the strengths each person brings to table.
So how can we make it work? There are many families that have succeeded in accomplishing a family first/business first model. It requires awareness, effective communication strategies, and ongoing conversations. Most of all it requires a desire to build on relationships that worked at the parent/child level and now have evolved into partnerships. Perhaps easier said than done but doable nonetheless. Make it a good one.
“Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.” Don Miguel Ruiz