The Family in Family Business – Resolving Conflict

All families face conflict from time to time and this becomes elevated when business, investment and money are involved. Conflicting interests among the different contributors to the business may overlap with difficulties in personal relationships, and disagreements become inevitable. One cannot forget, that although people come from the same family, there is no guarantee that their personalities are compatible or that they all wish to adhere to the same management style.


Unfortunately, carrying personal conflicts over into the workplace adds a new layer of complexity in a space where there is simply no room for time or distance to resolve these issues. The danger here is the possibility of starting an endless cycle of conflict that, if unchecked, can become unmanageable.


The costs, in this case, can be high and go beyond the discomfort and unpleasantness of disagreement in the workplace. The growth and ultimate survival of the business are at stake, as well as general harmony among the family members, who have to share their lives with the same people they are arguing with at work.


It is therefore important, for more than one reason, to address and properly manage conflict in the family business environment. Leaving things unsaid can lead to resentment, tension and buildup, and does no favors to the people involved or to the health of the business. It is important to address conflict and build an environment of trust, openness and respect, vying for teamwork and ultimately remembering that there is a common goal – the success of the business.


There are of course different reasons as to why conflicts may arise within the family business environment. Some of these are strictly related to the workplace while others may have more deep-rooted and personal origins. Needless to say, each type of conflict needs to be resolved in an appropriate way, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.


One of the more difficult roots of conflict is personal disagreement. In this case, it is normally up to senior family members to make sure that the organisation and structure of the business avoids such clashes to the extent that this is possible.


This has to be done with other issues in mind, as it is not uncommon for conflict to arise because of how the business is structured and run. In each of these cases, there needs to be agreement by everyone involved and no single person should feel left out or overlooked in important decision-making processes.


That being said, one of the biggest mistakes that people often make when structuring their family business is to rely on goodwill and common interest, and by doing this, ignore the possible ramifications of future generations disagreeing.


This is why it is important to have a clear structure with defined leadership that can prevent and avoid confusion regarding the roles of different members. Having this well-organised structure will also help with generational succession, with future family members knowing what roles they will be expected to take up.


It is never too late to set up a good working structure for your family business. No matter how long it has been in operation and no matter what conflicts may have arisen, there is always something to be done if you want your family business to thrive.


The first natural step is a family meeting. This promotes teamwork and makes members feel that they are valued and that their opinions and views count. A family meeting is the ideal space for sharing ideas, making future plans, and airing out any issues before they begin to fester.


If the conflict is already too deep-rooted for a civil meeting to take place, there is the option of hiring a family business consultant or mediator, who would be experienced in resolving such issues while ensuring fairness and objectivity.


At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of a family business is continued success. It is important not to lose sight of this common goal and to remember that, whatever personal conflicts and clashes there may be, the family business is one’s place of work, and like any other workplace or commercial endeavour, harmony is essential for the business to thrive.