Family Business Battleground


It is ironic that a family business battleground can result when driving the family business with appropriate and desirable family behaviors.

"We try to do all the right things but we never seem to change the pattern of arguing and finger-pointing."

Statements like that are common with family businesses according to leading family business expert Don Schwerzler.

"We know when we hear those kinds of 'battleground' statements - that family business is not capable of reaching the true potential of the business. All that negative energy impedes the growth and profitability of the family business."

Schwerzler has been studying and advising family business entrepreneurs for more than 50 years and is the founder of the Atlanta-based Family Business Institute.

A few years ago writer Q.J. Fleming identified nine dimensions for keeping "family baggage" from hurting the growth of the business and for maintaining healthy family relationships.

If you are in a family business and seeking strategies for keeping peace in your family business, consider these 9 dimensions that influence how well your family business operates and to keep your family business from becoming a battlefield.

  1. Membership / tenure

    People are automatically included in the family business and remain in it indefinitely.

    Family members are automatically brought into the business regardless of whether there's a need for them or whether they're qualified for the position. They enjoy lifetime tenure regardless of their job performance or adverse impact on the business.

  2. Authority

    Authority is a collaborative process.

    All people feel entitled to have a say in the business's affairs, regardless of their legitimacy or qualifications. Confusion on the battleground.

  3. Decision making

    A decision may be made by several persons, depending upon the situation. The system for determining the decision maker is informal.

    There is no clear-cut person entitled to make decisions on particular matters. Everyone seems to think that they should be allowed to decide. A battlefield with no commanders - or too many commanders.

  4. Reporting relationships

    There is a flexible hierarchy, continually shifting according to the situation.

    There is a lack of a clear-cut hierarchy, and people cannot be held accountable. Battleground communications!

  5. Job definition / roles

    People do tasks (i.e., chores) in accordance with what they want to do. Some tasks get done, others don't.

    People feel entitled to perform the types of assignments they want, rather than based upon what the family business needs.

  6. Priorities

    The needs of the people within the system take priority over the system.

    People expect that he business will support their individual long-range goals and accommodate their personal needs.

  7. Goals / performance evaluation criteria

    People make general, informal long-range goals focused on meeting their individual needs, and these are primarily a personal matter.

    People do not receive performance-related goals designed to support the family's business needs. There's nothing to be held accountable for.

  8. Rewards

    Rewards are given to make people feel loved by the family.

    People are automatically rewarded to make them feel loved regardless of their job performance.

  9. Longevity

    The system (i.e., family) has always existed and will continue to do so.

    People assume that the family business will automatically perpetuate itself and see no reason for changes or improvements (i.e., to act like a business).

It is a sad irony that mixing good family behaviors with an effective business system can produce a minefield of destructive issues. But that is exactly what we encounter on many occasions.


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