Family Feuds

Seven simple tips
to prevent family feuds
from killing your family business

Family feuds - whether they start in the family and spill into the business or start in the business and affect the family - are a major factor in family businesses having such a poor survival rate. Studies indicate that only about 30% of family businesses successfully transition from the first to the second generation; only about 12% successfully transition to the third generation; and only about 3% successfully transition to the fourth genertion!

"One of the misconceptions many people have is that a successful family business equates to having a common "view" amongst family members of how things are done and when," according to top family business expert Don Schwerzler. "It has been our experience that just the opposite is true. In successful family businesses, there is a surprising amount of disagreement or lack of consensus when new ideas or issues are first being debated and discussed."

Schwerzler has been studying and advising family business entreprenuers for more than 40 years and he is the founder of the Atlanta-based Family Business Institute. What makes the difference? In healthy family businesses, the dialog is aimed at creating "positive tension" whereas in dysfunctional family businesses, the "tension" created by the dialog is destructive and results in worsening family relationships and familty business conflict

Bob and Susan are owners of a second-generation business. Doing $8M in sales, they have three adult children who work in the business.

The family has a formal business meeting every month. Progress Reports are made on "action items" from previous meetings and new ideas and issues are discussed and debated. Sometimes a decision is forthcoming - sometimes the topic is tabled for additional research and further discussion. This family business is a great example of a family working well together and strengthening family relationships.

But it wasn't always like that. At one time, Bob and Susan hated to have family meetings because they rarely did anything positive. It generally turned into family fights where tempers flared and the language used and the insults made would create havoc in the family business. The parents were fearful that the family was unable to work together and that the family meetings would damage the family relationships beyond repair. As Bob explained when he first came to our web site, "you are our last hope. If you can't help us, we plan to put the business on the block and fire sale it - sell it for whatever we can get. My wife and I, we just can't take it anymore".

We agreed to act as a facilitator for these family business meetings (initially they were family feuds!) - and I would not be truthful if I told you that the situation was turned around quickly and without a lot of hard work on the part of each family member. Old habits are hard to break. But each member of the family agreed to our help - and each agreed to work hard at changing the status quo. They understood that the family business conflicts were hurting the growth of the business and worsening the family relationships.

One of the first lessons we teach when we facilitate a Family Business Meeting or a Family Council Meeting is Respectful Listening and Respectful Questioning. The goal is to enable the family members to become better skilled at what we call "active listening"- it is the key to communicating effectively with those who disagree with us.

Seven simple tips on being a better "active listener"

  1. Make time to understand the points of view of others - the payoff can be huge.
  2. Understand we make a difference one conversation at a time - don't try to out shout everyone else.
  3. Seek more information and insights from those with whom you disagree - ask for amplification and examples that will enable you to better understand other points of view.
  4. While disagreements on issues may be strong, don't forget the family's values are a shared bond and represent a shared commitment to the common good.
  5. Create "rules of behavior" for the family meetings and abide by them - being family does not excuse boorish behavior or a lack of business etiquette.
  6. Do not ridicule or be sarcastic to other family members - know and understand that being in a family business does not result in solidarity of opinion.
  7. Establish time limits on discussions or debates - when that time limit is reached but closure is not attained, table the topic for further research and put it on the agenda for discussion at a future meeting.

As one expert put it, "I know we don't have to agree with each other to think well together".

We feel that would make a great motto for family businesses - a great guide to developing healthy family relationships while at the same time insulating the business from family feuds!

Family feuds are a waste of time and money - why not get help? You may want to consider asking us to help - just like Bob and Susan and their family...

and get back to achieving the true potential of your family business - see what a difference harmoney makes!!!

Is your family business a battleground?

There are nine dimensions where family systems and business systems are different. If you are experiencing family feuds, chances are the source is in one or more of these areas.

Is your family business a battleground? will show you in about 5 minutes how to recognize these trouble areas and help you stop your family feuds.

If your family business is having business or family problems, we can help when you need a

Family Business Troubleshooter For immediate help, contact us using the Family Business Help Desk or call us at 770.970.0163


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