Building the Family Business “Team”

Building the Family Business “Team”
Family Ties Newsletter
November 2001

By Michael Wilkes, MBA, CBC, Senior Leadership Consultant

Developing an effective team is a major challenge for any business. Yet, it can be especially challenging for a family business since members of your team frequently wear a number of family and business related “hats”. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for developing a productive team, but rather an overall guide to the hard work that is required.

To start, you might want to view your team as an “energy source” that team members are responsible for harnessing and directing. The team is responsible for three primary tasks in harnessing this energy – establishing Purpose, Partnership, and Process. Within each of these tasks the team must assure there is Clarity, Capability, and Commitment.


The first task is to establish a clear sense of purpose. The team will not be productive unless there is a purpose that energizes its members and helps direct their energy into achieving that mission. Members must also develop strategies that will guide their activities. They must ask what things should be done and what things they should stop doing in order to effectively achieve the team’s purpose.

Members need to continually ask themselves whether the team is enacting the role needed to achieve its purpose. Depending on the situation, the team’s role may focus on planning, problem solving, communication, decision making, visioning, strategic planning, and so on. Your team must seek to enact the optimal role for the moment, understanding that the role may change as the business evolves.


The second task asks two questions: “How will we work with each other?” and “How will we relate to others?” The team must understand everyone’s individual contributions and meet their commitments to one another and to the team. Team members should strive to; better understand each other, offer support, ensure new members feel included, treat each other with respect, make good use of every member’s talents, and recognize accomplishments.

Members of healthy teams, like members of healthy families, support one another’s personal goals. Productive team members feel well utilized, valued, and realize the shared responsibility to meet the team’s goals. In addition to partnership among members, the team must manage their critical relationships with outsiders in order to build needed relationships and enhance existing ones.


Productive family business teams must be willing to pay attention to how the team works together. What are the “ground rules”? Team members will make conscious decisions about what processes they will follow, and re-examine these processes frequently.

How are decisions to be made – business first or family first? How will team members communicate with one another and how will conflict be resolved? How will information be shared and achievements recognized?

It is essential to establish formal policies before they are needed, such as buy/sell agreements, compensation, investments, and who may participate in the business. The team should also determine methods for receiving feedback. How will the team evaluate its overall and individual member’s performance?

Clarity – Capability – Commitment

As stated earlier, the team must assure there is Clarity, Capability, and Commitment in each of these primary tasks. Are all team members crystal clear about the team’s purpose and strategies for achievement? Is everyone in agreement on their individual roles and relationships within and outside the team? Are the methods for working together clearly defined and practiced?

If there is any hope of achieving its goals the team must have the capability to perform. Have you chosen members with complementary skills in order to implement the strategies? Do team members have the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to develop the required partnerships and the know-how to use the processes? Team development is an ongoing process and not an event. It is essential that you take time to develop and maintain the team. Finally, there must be a sense of emotional commitment to the team’s purpose, to one another, and to the processes you’ve agreed to follow. Effective family business teams rarely lose sight of what they are doing, why they are doing it, how they are working together, and whom they are working with.

This article appeared in the November, 2001 issue of Family Ties, a publication of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Family Business Center. Michael Wilkes is a Senior Leadership Consultant with Smith & Gesteland, LLP, a CPA and business consulting firm with offices in Madison, Sun Prairie and Columbus. He specializes in business improvement and leadership development. He can be reached at (608) 836-7500 or