Posts Tagged ‘boundaries’

Why Conflict In A Family Business Is Bad For Strategy

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

We’ve worked in a lot of family businesses over the past 12 years.The negative impacts of confrontation and infighting on strategy

During that time we’ve had assignments disrupted, even brought to a premature end by family conflict.

I’ve seen family members say, and do, some terrible things to each other.

It’s not as if it’s a new experience. I saw some ugly political games in the 25 years I spent climbing the corporate ladder.

Confrontation and infighting are bad for any business. Their impact on the strategy, however brilliant and well executed, can be enormous.

There’s a difference though. In a family business, the damage isn’t just to the company.

The unpleasantness spills over into private lives, and relationships that should be close – parents and children, brothers and sisters – are shattered. And sometimes they remain unrepaired until it’s too late, because one of the parties dies.

I’d realized that the conflict in family firms seemed more intense than the ones I’d seen in my corporate days. But I hadn’t realized why until a blog post I read recently made it clear.

Corporations have barriers that prevent conflict becoming too ugly. Rules, processes and structures govern the behavior of every employee, from the lowest to the highest. For example, if a manager talks or behaves inappropriately, he will find himself on the wrong end of disciplinary action initiated by HR.

The same rules exist in many family businesses, but they apply to everyone except the owners.

Why? Family members apply the dynamics from their personal relationships to business situations – even though they know they shouldn’t. For example:

•  When a child becomes an adult and joins the family firm, the parent who raised her remembers her missteps and miscues from childhood and adolescence.

•  Parents try to resolve disputes by forcing everyone to toe the line.

•  Siblings deal with difficult circumstances by withdrawing, avoiding, or undermining each other.

Even if the child has left the family home, the plant or office can become a replacement.

As the owners of the business, the family can ignore the rules or processes. So there is nothing to stop conflict, caused by the ineffective behavior of both generations, blowing the lid off the family’s assumed harmony and threatening the success of the business.

Does this mean that every family business is fated to erupt into a bitter fight? No, of course not.

Some families use their values, long-term orientation to their investment and loyalty to employees and customers to maintain a “professional management” approach to challenges, problems and conflict.   In the other cases, family members can be helped to understand that conflicts can result if there are no formal boundaries on their behavior.

And, in fact, we have been able to help families like these, put greater structure in place. Which enables focus to go back on the execution of the strategy and getting results.

If you want to read the full blog post you can find it here.

 

If you enjoyed this post you’ll also enjoy Little Things Can Have a Big Impact

Click here and automatically receive our latest blog posts.

Share

Post History