Survival Guide: Surviving Summer Family Get-Togethers for the Family Business (you know, just in case you need it or anything)

Summer brings on a slower business pace, some much-awaited downtime, and for the conflicted family business, the often-dreaded family get-together vacation.

These get-togethers are commonly held at the parent’s vacation home where everyone descends to enjoy a week or more of vacation together on neutral territory. This bringing together of the family outside of the business is where it gets a little awkward.

Follow these survival tips to retain some civility:

  1. Before you scurry for an excuse not to go, step back, be less selfish and realize this is for the parents. Besides, no one is going to believe what you thought was the most clever, believable excuse.
  2. Hunker down for a long-term visit with your siblings. This isn’t a brief 4-hour Thanksgiving dinner. It’s going to be multiple days under the same roof together. (Think: Ghostbusters movie “headed for a disaster of biblical proportions … Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!)
  3. If choosing a vacation house for your get-together, find one with many separate living areas and outside porches for hanging out. (Extra points for separate detached cottage from main home). This allows everyone some “space” and “alone” areas to escape when the family becomes too overwhelming. The worst layout is the large open floor plan which forces everyone to be together and socialize with each other 24/7. Not that I’ve ever had this experience or anything, but the backyard doghouse never looked so good.
  4. Overlapping stays by a few days between siblings can help diminish the tension. It also gives each of them some alone time with the parents.
  5. Keep length of visits to a minimum. The first few days together seem to be more innocent catch up time, but extended stays risk conversations going into the sensitive, dark-side areas.
  6. Use your kids as shields. By centering activities around the kids, you’re less likely to get involved in sensitive relationship issues. It’s hard to argue with each other in front of the kids. Not impossible, but hard.
  7. Keep busy, downtime breeds boredom, which brings negative thinking. I find offering to run down to the store to pick up something comes in handy to break up the tension. You can never have enough milk (or alcohol). Your choice.
  8. Don’t avoid talking about the business. Going for long lengths of time without discussing the business just creates a pent-up desire to talk about it more. Oddly, discussing the business issues can be less stressful than avoiding them.
  9. Use diversion tactics. When conversations get too contentious, just switch to talking about today’s politics. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t have a strong opinion about what’s going on in Washington. This is the only time it’s considered proper etiquette to talk about politics with others.
  10. Make sure there is good WiFi at the vacation home. I once saw a sign that said “we have no WiFi, so you’ll have to talk with each other”. Enough said.
  11. If all else fails, schedule the vacation get-together around the solar eclipse on August 21. That way you’ll have a few less minutes of daylight to see each other.

Now, get out there and enjoy your summer with your family (yes, it really can happen).

-an anonymous family business member with a great, believable, clever excuse


Family Business Leadership – Do You “Really” Want to Run the Show?

My brother and I were next in line to lead the family business, but it seemed neither of us genuinely wanted the position.

Three years apart in age, we never felt any real competition between ourselves. I assumed he would eventually lead the business because he was the older child and had a few more years of experience on me. But we never discussed it, never competed for it, it was just an unspoken assumption.

Neither of us ever did lead the family business.

A strange thing happens as our family businesses grow, we almost become detached from the “real” business. Lost in the excitement and chaos of fast growth is your slowly changing role in the business.  You go from being a hands-on specialist to a delegating general manager.

Managing Managers

As our business grew our tasks became more administrative and less hands-on. We both really missed the hands-on entrepreneurial aspects of our positions. The business had grown so rapidly that we found ourselves “managing managers.” We could have been in almost any industry because we weren’t using any of our hands-on skills.

Keeping Entrepreneurial

We’re taught that we need to be less hands-on and delegate more as our responsibility increases.  But you shouldn’t feel guilty about staying hands-on.  In your family business you have more flexibility and choice to customize your role. What makes a business successful is the entrepreneurial idea that launched the business and keeping the momentum going by staying innovative. Some choose to delegate that responsibility to others and eventually become CEO, while others choose to remain entrepreneurial and have an outside CEO. Both are successful models.

Remember you can “own” the business, but you don’t have to “lead” the business.