Tips for Dealing with Family Business Dynamics

Providing services for those in the food and agriculture community usually means that you are going to work with many family-run businesses. The level of family involvement in these companies’ operations varies greatly depending on factors such as the size of the family and how long their business has been around. Heavy family involvement can make managing a successful, growing business a challenge, particularly in families with drama and politics that prevent the family members from seeing eye-to-eye on the direction of the business. These disagreements often lead to compromises that are geared more toward not upsetting family members rather than looking at the company’s future. Needless to say, family dynamics can come into direct conflict with the company’s goals. Following are a few tips for family businesses to help keep everyone on the same page:

Make sure everyone has a voice. This doesn’t mean that you need to have a democratic vote every time the company has an important decision to make. In fact, that is often a very counterproductive approach. The key is to give family members a sounding board for their thoughts, questions, and concerns, whether it’s through invitations to shareholder meetings or access to the company’s CEO or Managing Partner. It will not be possible to satisfy everyone’s wishes, but family members will appreciate the opportunity to be heard.

Bring in an outside perspective. Hiring a non-partisan member for your company’s management or advisory team will go a long way toward keeping the company focused on business rather than family politics. Mixing business with family can stir up a lot of emotions, and it’s important to have a decision maker on board who is able to see things from a perspective that is untainted by family bias. For conflicts between family members, bring in third-party mediators.

Don’t abandon the family aspect. While it is important to maintain boundaries between business and family motives when it comes to decision making, you should still recognize and celebrate the fact that you are family. Take pride in how your company was founded and how it has grown over the years. Throw your summer barbecues and holiday parties, and make sure the whole family is invited. Taking some time to remember the benefits of being a family will help to ease the inevitable tension that will come next time everyone disagrees on something.

+Tim Peters is a consultant with Morrison, providing business valuations, business planning (including budgeting, cash flow forecasting, strategic planning), feasibility studies, interim executive services, competitive grant writing and special projects that don't fit into any conventional category. You can contact Tim directly at tpeters@morrisonco.net or via telephone at 530-893-4764 ext. 208.

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