Many families in business together often wonder what the advantages might be to concern themselves with the dynamics of their family. The business and the family issues are often viewed separately.
In fact the culture of business is often linear, disciplined, goal oriented, bottom-line driven. The drive of the business is to tackle problems by first organizing them into manageable segments. Families in business often are particularly savvy at being able to create a solid structure, defined business goals, visions for the business and discipline for success.
Family dynamics present in an opposite fashion to business dynamics; the developmental process is not linear. Challenges within families rarely lend themselves to being compartmentalized. Horizons in the family’s life are less predictable and the goals are often fluid and more difficult to define.
Vulnerability of Families in Business Together
Families in business together are more vulnerable to certain types of disruptive troubles. Complications may occur when a matriarch or patriarch holds the position of primary owner, or “boss” or captain or president of the business(es). In these cases the father or mother either inherited the business or built it from scratch. It is not uncommon that this top figure has toiled, labored, and risked for the business for many years prior to the adult children enter into the business.
This structure, where a patriarch or matriarch is at the “top” lends its to being vulnerable to issues of coercion. Families are the place where we learn to love. Popular culture tends to romanticize love and characterize it as a feeling. Alternatively, love can be thought of as something that can be given, actions that stem from our own inner resources, as we act responsibly in an effort offer to other family members something that makes a positive difference in their lives. In this sense love is the process of being involved with other family members in a way that expresses responsibility, caring, knowing, respect, trust.
Unconditional love has to do with loving a person for who they are, not what they do. Families become the main vehicles in which we learn how to express love. Emotional nutrients are absorbed and processed first in families. We learn to prioritize the relationship with family members or not in families. We learn how to express love, with affection, or not, openly or not, with touch or not and so on, in our first families. Love, in this sense can be an abundant or scarce resource in the family.
Business, on the other hand has very different priorities. is a place where we learn to place value on a commodity and maximize our advantages in the market place. Businesses are organized to provide the material sustenance to make the family viable.
Business demands time commitments, performance goals, sacrifice, creative energy. Those family members who offer more to the business in these ways can be more valued, receive more rewards and ultimately have more with the patriarch or matriarch. There are very fine lines that can easily be crossed where the family confuses unconditional love with performance based “love”.
Families in business together are vulnerable to boundary violations. Families that are interdependent on each other to sustain a living have a vested interest in the decisions of others make in their personal lives. Issues of family loyalty may compel a family member to subvert other personal or professional dreams in order to maintain the smooth functioning of the family business.
Patriarchs or matriarchs may have cross purposes in that they may want grandchildren, but come to understand that work demands limit the time and space for an adult child to get married, and pregnant or adopt a child. Adult children may feel pulled in two between loyalty to the family and the desire to start their own family.
Adult children may bring their spouse into the business. Their marriage is then more exposed to the rest of the family than it might otherwise be. Complexities often emerge around lines of tension, influence, duress as spouses deal with their extended family and vise versa.
Disagreements and Resolutions
When things get heated, and family members become emotional invested in the battle, hurt feelings, bad business decisions and worse can ensue. Very few of us know how to have a clean disagreement or fight, and amongst those who do it can be tough to stick to a process of integrity when the going gets tough.
With money, business agendas, long-term goals, investment strategies, family needs and wants, sibling rivalries the ground is fertile for tensions and disagreements. How well or sophisticated a family has become at working out disagreements will take a lead role in the family business culture.
Families run into difficulties when fighting styles take on a win/lose dynamic. If the disagreements deteriorate into right/wrong power struggle many pieces in the business and family relationships are vulnerable to damage.
One of the most damaging affects of hurtful disagreements is the way in which it can cross breed from privacy of family life into the business and vice versa. Even if things seem resolved in the short-term, long-term damage may create relationship rupture.
Secret lives may materialize as a reaction to the experience of being over-exposed. With your business in the family, and your family in the business there can be a vulnerability to feeling over-exposed. One way to cope with this experience is to create a secret life.
A secret life is different then a private life in that if others were to know or hear about details in the private life it might create interest and curiosity from other family members. A secret life on the other hand may stir many negative or hurt responses from other family members. In this way a secret life may be defined as a destructive force if it were discovered, where a private life would not have that same negative affect.
How to avoid and prevent problems in your family in business together
One way to address issues before they metastasize is to enter a process which helps the family discover more about their traditions, dynamics, history and roots. This mining process often helps a family come to terms with some of the traditions and character traits that make-up your family tree.
This exploration of family history and dynamics is often experienced by family members as a discovery process that is quite empowering. Certain family strengths can be highlighted and understood for where they are rooted and how they came to be maximized.
Families often will feel closer and bonded in understanding their common core characteristics and create a sense of belonging. Problem areas can often be addressed from new angles as new pieces of the puzzle shed light on the inner workings of the business and the family.
Sometimes the family can be served by the expertise of a consultant.
Sometimes family members are too close to the problem to offer any new or creative input in working through issues. Often times family members cannot see the larger picture. Further, their point of view is heard from other members as simply another maneuver or strategy to get their own way.
Consultants often help to by-pass the impasses and help give the family new ways to be in old problems. Consultants may offer compelling insights, new frames, and help the family work through issues on both a personal and professional level.