The Family that Works Together…

Working with family can be…interesting. It can bring out the best in you and your relatives, as well as the worst in your working relationships. You’re related so you should all be able to work together, right? Not necessarily. No matter what your business is, the challenges of working with family members are the same. And they’re not often easy to deal with.

Special issues crop up in family-run businesses that don’t occur anywhere else. Either that or similar issues in non-family businesses seem inflated and more intense than in a family-run company. Some of the most common issues to which I am referring are:

» Birth order: The “older brother” or “older sister” syndrome involves that sibling being viewed as more powerful or feeling more entitled due to their birth order.

» Playing favorites: Mommy or Daddy’s favorite, used to getting his or her own way, continues to be favored. Siblings often become jealous or angry.

» Fraternization rules: Some relatives and their spouses have relatives with whom they socialize and interact with outside of work. Conversely, some relatives and their spouses do not get along well with other members of the family. These feelings, both positive and negative, undoubtedly spill over into the work setting.

» Sibling rivalry: Family rivalry to succeed and be “the best” in order to gain praise from powerful or important relatives is intense, non-collaborative and, at times, destructive.

» Good old fashioned nepotism: Children of the founder get special treatment due to that relation.
These are just a few of the interpersonal dynamics that can occur in family businesses. But wait, there’s hope. There are some approaches you can take to minimize- and even erase-the negative aspects of working with family.

First and foremost, follow the golden rule: Make sure that everything that occurs, including the delegation of authority and responsibility, decision-making, promotions, rewards, demotions, praise and salary increases, is based on concrete and clearly stated knowledge, skills, abilities and personality traits. These factors must be at the very foundation of every business activity. If they’re not, the five negative dynamics mentioned above will begin to creep into your business and end up being destructive and counter-productive.

Second, leave your family issues at home. While this can often seem impossible, it must be attempted. Relatives may have grown up together, competed, collaborated, loved and hated each other at one time, but the workplace is not an environment in which you and your relatives should play out or resolve your childhood or adult dramas.

Each family member should strive to interact with other relatives involved in the business in the same neutral manner they use when interacting with non-family members. If they can’t manage to do that, it will be all too easy to bring old family hurts into the situation when trust is called in for problem solving or collaborating. If they can’t manage a non-neutral stance, expect disaster ahead for your work environment and your work outcomes.

Third, clear communication is key. There are always shortcuts in a family business, like going to a favorite relative to get an issue resolved. Invariably, this means going over or around the proper individual, and that can seem preferable, especially if the proper individual is a relative who is not well liked. That shouldn’t be allowed. And while this action also occurs in non-family encounters, it’s much easier to allow it to occur in family businesses; the inevitable result is that the individual being avoided discovers that a relative has bypassed the proper channel. When this happens, old family patterns emerge, further complicating an already complicated issue.

The best way to avoid these experiences is to drop interpersonal dislikes and deal directly with the individual involved. As mentioned before, it is crucial to treat family and non-family alike in all situations. When you take all of these factors into consideration, family-run businesses can operate more smoothly, with increased output and decreased tensions.