An important part of your game plan for your family business succession planning process is to teach your family to take the family business conflict on head-on!
Conflict is inevitable and actually can be a very healthy ingredient for building a strong passionate team. The problem is most families are not taught how to deal with conflict in the professional, mature and healthy way.
Take my family for example. Conflict was not a problem. My older brother ruled by fear and intimidation and a good old-fashioned beat down if any of us spoke out of place! I’m half kidding and half serious. Family competition for power can often times follows the lines of birth order and early fights that erupted in the family station wagon.
For a family business to win in the long run it needs to embark on building business relationships that are based upon professionalism, honest dialogue and grounded in sound business practices. For too many families, working in a family business becomes an extension of the bad behaviors many of us exhibited as young children. Successful business teams learn how to have professional arguments that are based upon sound business best practices, experience, and tangible success.
If the family business wants to learn how to deal with conflict it would be well served to follow the example of successful nonfamily businesses.
We have the opportunity to coach leaders in corporate America and watch conflict in the workplace without bringing in past baggage from childhood sibling rivalries. Strong business leaders advocate for their agendas based upon strong business cases backed up by sound empirical evidence leading to good business decisions.
I can’t tell you how angry it made me when I took some of my great ideas to Uncle Walsh and our executive committee and they would tell me to go back and build a strong business case for my idea. At first I was personally offended, but later I began to realize our family business success was built upon sound disciplined decision-making, not pleasing or acquiescing to a family member’s half-baked idea.
Having the opportunity to coach many up-and-coming next-generation family business participants, it gives me great pleasure to tell them they need to go back and fully flesh out their idea and present a strong business case to fathers – and stop taking it personally that he’s just not signing off on your idea.
But at the end of the day too many families view the conflict as highly problematic and rather than deal with it they simply ignore it or even worse, handle it poorly by shouting, pouting or disengaging with each other. All of those behaviors begin to create a major crack in the foundation of long-term family business success.
Now let’s come back to one of our fundamental ideas about deliberate practice. Not only should you learn effective communication skills, you should see regular conflict as an opportunity for the family to practice dealing with conflict in the workplace.
Sometimes that’s where people like me come into play. Many times professional outside advisors like a business coach can be a referee for the family. Having an outside adviser in the room gives the founder or mom and dad the chance to step back and let the conflict happen without having to take sides. In fact here’s a short video from one of our clients who speaks about that very subject.
So here’s your game plan for family business conflict:
- see conflict as an inevitable and healthy part of business
- make conflict skills training one of your regular ongoing practices
- bring outsiders to the table to be unbiased referees
- learn to love and respect each other even if the conflict’s messy and doesn’t quite go the way you wanted it to go
One of Uncle Walsh’s and my greatest fights was over the expansion of one of our showrooms. I can remember it as if it was yesterday. It was uncomfortable and took a while for the bruises to heal but at the end of the day we still loved and respected each other and knew it was our responsibility to be good team players and keep the healthy happy tone for the entire locker room.
Learn how to deal with conflict and “Play to Your Potential!”