Keeping family members from stepping on each other can go a long way toward preventing conflict in your family business
Whenever I meet someone and they ask me what it’s like to work in a family business, they almost always begin by asking how hard it must be to work with each other and how much fighting goes on. In our family business we actually get along well with each other. In fact, most family businesses I meet also don’t have the typical conflict and infighting stigma that follows us around.
I attribute the friendliness and lack of conflict to having distinct, defined job roles and responsibilities for each family member. This prevents us from stepping on each other, which can lead to conflict. Each of us manage a different functional area; Marketing, Production and Merchandising. Other non-family members manage areas including Operations and Finance.
Textbook theory says it’s important for family members to gain outside work experience in another business before entering the family business. I totally agree. However in real-life this seldom happens because the logistics are difficult and awkward. Mostly though, it’s the temptation for family members to go for the more comfortable path of directly entering the family business. Like a free agent athlete who should stay in college for a degree before jumping to the pros for the big contract, the temptation to earn more and jump-start your career is constantly present.
More typical is what we did. We started at entry-level positions and worked our way up over several years into management positions. Even though we didn’t gain outside experience first, we did realize a part of the experience by managing core functional areas of the business. Having each of the family members responsible for a department gives each of us autonomy and accountability.
Having distinctly different roles minimizes these sources of conflict:
- Overlapping responsibilities
- Fighting for recognition
- Favoritism towards certain family members
- Jealousy among siblings
Having defined roles doesn’t meaning building firewalls between siblings. You still need to collaborate together. It makes the need for a strong, likeable leader even more important. The leader needs to act as gatekeeper and chief tiebreaker to keep decisions moving forward. In our family business our parents played that role.
At some point however, you need to determine who the next leader will be. This is where it gets interesting.