Much of what is discussed within family businesses revolves around the issue of succession: Dad will have to slow down sometime who will take over then?
Indeed, this is the big elephant in the room for many family businesses. However, theres another challenge to many of these businesses that cant be ignored: the dynamic of working side-by-side with your siblings.
Whether you consider it an advantage or a drain to work with your brother or sister may have something to do with how you regard your place in the family.
I have dealt with many sibling family businesses. And with multi-sibling businesses, often one of the siblings will decide to exit the business at some point. There is not much research on the reasons why, but one theory comes from the late American psychiatrist Murray Bowen. He founded Family Systems Theory, which examines the emotional dynamic among family members.
Under Bowens triangle theory, he notes that three-person relationships can be more stable than pairs, since tension can be spread out. But, according to Bowen, a triangle creates an odd man out a difficult position for many to tolerate.
Along those same lines, there is a natural tendency for siblings to have some kind of rivalry. It is natures way of enabling children to define who they are as an individual and demonstrate that they are different from their siblings. As children mature, they begin to understand their individuality, and sibling rivalry can lessen.
Griffith Real Estate Services is a third-generation family business in Charlotte run by two brothers, Jim and Preston Griffith. According to Jim, being in business with ones sibling is naturally challenging, if for no other reason than sibling rivalry. So they decided to implement multiple measures to ensure the smooth sailing of their relationship and the business.
We have put good systems in place, promote transparency, and encourage communication, Jim says. It also helps that our skill sets complement each other.
While there are a myriad of factors that can positively and negatively impact sibling relationships at work, here are five guidelines to assist in the healthy working relationship among siblings:
• Keep your childhood in the past. Yes, your sister told on you all the time and your brother used to pick on you as a child. But you are an adult now, and this is a business that has a reputation and generates income for you and many others. Either get therapy or talk it out, but ultimately you need to put these issues behind you.
• Clearly define your roles. All siblings are children of the owner, each with a sense of ownership for the entire business. This can be a good thing. However, it can be bad when no one knows what they are responsible for or there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
Businesses have critical functions. Define a leader for each, and all else should follow or get out of the way.
• Have a communication system. Have a predetermined meeting schedule, and stick with it. Set a meeting agenda beforehand for structure, but leave time at the end for new topics. Ensure that there are family-only meetings, or one-on-one sessions with siblings.
• Talk about and agree to the money and the benefits. Compensation in a family business is hard. Not communicating about it creates suspicion and breaks down trust.
• Understand each others goals. They will not necessarily be the same, but understanding where each other is heading will go a long way in helping you work together.
Working with your brother, sister or cousin can be challenging. However, implementing some simple measures can create a family business built on trust, and that excels in the marketplace.
Henry Hutcheson is a speaker and author, and president of the consulting firm Family Business Carolina. Email your questions about family business to Henry@familybusinesscarolina.com.
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