There are around 5.5 million family businesses in the United States, employing 63% of the workforce, according to Family Enterprise USA, a non-profit advocacy organization. In any business, you’ll have conflict but that conflict can be magnified several times over when the emotional entanglements of family members are involved.
Let’s say a fight has started in the business, one that threatens to derail morale throughout the entire company and possibly impact productivity and profitability. How do you handle it?
Here are a few tips to get the business, and the family back on track.
1. Discuss the situation when everyone is calm
This rule applies to any conflict in your life. Nothing much productive will be accomplished when emotions are running high. Wait until the seas appear calm and people can engage in problem solving in a more rational way.
2. Allow everyone to air his or her thoughts and concerns
Make sure every member of the family has an opportunity to express their thoughts. Sometimes those who don’t speak up at a meeting are the ones who are escalating the conflict with others. And if people don’t feel that they have had a chance to speak, they become resentful. The problem will not be resolved and will resurface at a later time.
3. Define what the real issue is
This can be the most complicated part of any conflict resolution efforts, particularly in a family business. You may start solving the issue that has seemingly caused the conflict, for example that Uncle Roger has not been meeting his sales quota and the other salespeople are resentful.
But once you communicate that Uncle Roger’s largest client went under and he is slowly building his sales back up, people are still unhappy. You dig a little deeper and find out that they really resent him because he just got an expensive new office chair and the other salespeople feel they deserve one too.
Now that you’ve determined the real problem, you can begin to problem solve effectively.
4. Get buy-in on any solutions
Deciding on a solution without family members agreeing to it pretty much guarantees failure. Make sure everyone involved has come to an agreement on what the resolution to the problem should be.
The concept of buy-in for any business is so critical that I devoted a chapter to it in my book, “How Not to Hire a Guy Like Me: Lessons Learned From CEOs’ Mistakes.” Along with communication, it’s one of the keys to success.
5. Make sure the roles for each family member for enacting the solution are clearly defined
Once a solution has been reached, if action is required, make sure each person clearly understand their role and when the action should be completed. Have someone present at the meeting write down what steps were decided on, who is going to complete them, and what the deadlines are. Have it circulated in an email, with a note thanking the staff for their participation in the problem solving process.
Despite all your best efforts, sometimes a conflict just can’t be resolved within the family. At this point, it can be beneficial to bring in a third party to mediate the real issues between the family members. A third party can often bring a different perspective and develop a creative solution, one that family members who are immersed in the issues aren’t able to do.
Some of the most successful businesses in this country are family ones. Good conflict resolution is one of the keys to help your family business thrive.