3 Successful Ways to Tackle Conflict in a Family Business

Are you feeling frustrated and worried about the future of your family business due to unresolved conflict in the company? Multigenerational business owners I have spoken to identify the greatest threat due to conflict in a family business is the loss of revenue and profitability. Thus, getting to the source of the problem and resolving it is crucial for success. 

A successful organization has a vibrant and cohesive culture showcasing a company with positive morale and employees who work together, communicate and collaborate in decision making. Systems and processes are in place and qualified resources are available for support to deal with inevitable conflicts. If family members are arguing amongst themselves, with other employees, or with suppliers, the conflict needs to be resolved or the business will suffer.

Types of relationships in a family business

 Within a family business, there are 3 key relationships that have significant power to affect company revenues and profitability. Authors Baron & Lachenauer, in the Harvard Business Review Family Business Handbook: How To Build and Sustain a Successful, Enduring Enterprise, identify these as family, owner, and business relationships. Family is a long-lasting emotional bond. Owner relationships are characterized by power, influence, and voting control. Business relationships have structure and a hierarchy, with clearly defined roles and leadership. These relationship types are dynamic and each individual in the family business has a multitude of relationships to manage in the family and in the business. Hence it is easy for conflict to erupt.

3 ways of dealing with conflict in a family business

Having a family business strategy to overcome and prevent further conflict can be successfully achieved by:

  1. Invest in building and learning effective communication skills

Conflict stems from unresolved feelings, a difference in values, and miscommunication. A family disagreement can halt business meetings, productivity, decision making and will continue to escalate if not dealt with. If leadership or staff are struggling to resolve the situation, outside help from a well-trained and experienced family business coach can assist to release the burden of the situation and help sort things out. A coach or counselor can assist family members and other employees by asking specific questions and conducting an assessment, listening, guiding, and providing resources and recommendations. Then a strategy can be designed to resolve the conflict and put preventative measures in place for the future.

  1. Implement Structured Family Meetings

Creating a written agenda, including topics, general time expectations, and who is leading the meeting will help keep the meeting on task. Having a separate meeting that is just for family issues, can give voice to personal concerns and family issues separate from company business. It gives the conversations a time and place where family members can be heard and share their thoughts on personal issues without infringing upon company business. In the business meetings, the focus is on business.

  1. Create a policy and process for conflict management

Having agreed-upon policies and procedures for addressing conflict in a family business, helps business members with direction and the ‘how-to’ for conflict resolution. This can be achieved through a number of options. Having staff trained in conflict management, clarifying communication channels, staff and operational roles and responsibilities, behavior expectations, and utilizing a coach specialized in family business and conflict resolution. Preventing future triggers of the current conflict is also addressed from the experience of the current conflict. 

Conclusion

Catch conflict early – do not avoid dealing with it or the problem will grow and have a more serious impact in the future than it already does now. Unresolved conflict is a threat to the health of the company, its growth, revenue, and profitability. Having effective communication, family meetings, and policies and procedures are strategies that get results. Engaging a family business coach trained and experienced in conflict resolution will give you support if you are struggling to resolve it on your own. It doesn’t have to feel disheartening and overwhelming, support is just a click away!


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Family conflict can be resolved with strategic thinking, planning & implementation. Learn methods and approaches for communicating effectively, managing conflict, and more.

Wendy Dickinson

About the Author

Wendy Dickinson is the founder of Ascend Coaching Solutions LLC, a coaching firm that specializes in working with business owners and executives who plan to expand their leadership capacity as their business grows.

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