Got Conflict? Here’s How to Keep the Peace in a Family-run Business

A whopping 90% of businesses in the United States are family-owned or controlled. And if you fall into the 90%, you know how challenging it can be to keep the peace while running a family business. From minor disputes to full-on squabbles, the last thing you want to do is ignore family problems if they seep into your workplace. To learn how to keep the peace in your family-run business, read away.

Keeping the peace in a family-run business: 6 tips to avoid arguments

Having peace in your family-owned business is important if you want your company to succeed for many more years to come. If you fail to keep the peace, you may find yourself putting out fires left and right and dealing with drama 24/7.

To keep your family-run company conflict-free, use these six tips to keep family members in line with your expectations.

tips for keeping the peace in a family-run business

1. Set boundaries

Boundaries are oh-so important when you merge family with work. And if you don’t set boundaries, things like nepotism, favoritism, and family politics can emerge … and nobody wants that.

Set boundaries for things like:

  • Who’s in charge
  • Responsibilities
  • Roles
  • Communication (aka, don’t talk about family matters at work)

A major part of setting boundaries is determining the right roles for family members and non-family members. And, just because they’re family doesn’t mean they have to be put in charge. Don’t put people in certain positions because of lineage. Instead, look at each team member’s ability. Mix up roles and give authority to deserving workers outside of the family, too.

Communicate with your family members what you expect of them as a team member to ensure family members contribute just as much as non-family members.

On the importance of setting boundaries in a family-run workplace, Marcus Clarke, Founder of Searchant, said:

Separate work from family issues. Indeed, you are blood-related within the business, but this does not give you the authority to bring family drama to the office. For instance, you have disagreements with your siblings at home, is it proper to discuss them at work? No, it is not. Keep it professional at all times, and respect the boundary between family life and work.

Dawn Gribble, CEO and Founder of Virtual Solutions Global, also discusses boundaries by stating:

Keeping the peace in a family-run business requires boundaries in time, space, and identity. Make it clear when the working day starts and finishes, which areas are reserved for work, and assign job roles to help differentiate between “Manager” and “Mom.”

2. Treat each other as co-workers

If you want your family business to function properly, you need to treat everyone equally. This includes both family and non-family members.

To keep the peace in the family business, don’t give anyone special treatment. Treat every employee of the business as a co-worker. If you act like family instead of a working team, there’s bound to be some bumps in the road.

Having every team member treat each other as equal co-workers means more productivity and hopefully less (or no) drama.

3. Address drama outside of the workplace

Sometimes workplace drama is inevitable, especially when you bring family into the mix. But, the last thing you want to do is address family and personal issues in the workplace. Instead of addressing family drama in the workplace, take it outside.

If you want to avoid drama in the first place, you should:

  • Address issues big and small before they snowball out of control
  • Ensure everyone is openly communicating
  • Treat every team member equally (family or not)
  • Come up with a plan in case things get heated
  • Always be on the lookout for problems

If a non-work-related problem does arise between family members at work, defuse the situation and address any issues outside of the workplace.

4. Create a succession plan for the future

The root of many family business problems and drama has to do with business succession. Aka, who’s going to take over the company when the current owner or manager steps down.

To keep things conflict-free at your small business, consider creating a succession plan. That way, everyone knows what their roles are and what the future of the business is.

When planning your business’s succession, think about who you’d want to take over your business. Maybe it’s a family member. Maybe it’s an all-star employee. Or, maybe it’s a combination of the two. Whatever your heart desires for your company, come up with a plan.

Come up with a clear direction and be sure to outline the following in your plan:

  • Training for teamwork and leadership
  • Key players (e.g., managers)
  • Future leaders
  • New owners and stockholders, if applicable
  • New CEO, if applicable

The more detail in your plan, the better. That way, you’re transparent about what you want for your business’s future, and you can lay it all out on the table for your team.

Of course, if things change over time before you pass the business baton, you can always change things up in your plan. Just be sure to share your plan with all potential successors and keep them up-to-date.

5. Maintain a work-family balance

You’ve heard of work-life balance. You know, balancing work and your personal life. But, have you ever considered working that into your family life? Introducing: work-family balance.

Having a healthy work-family balance can help your family business steer clear of drama. With work-family balance, you leave work at work. That means you don’t discuss family matters while you’re on the clock.

When you work with family, it can be hard to maintain a balance and not cross any lines. But, setting boundaries and keeping work and family separate is absolutely necessary if you want your family company to succeed.

To keep your work-family balance healthy, plan special times to spend together just as family—not co-workers. You could plan a trip, go out to lunch or dinner as a group, or have a family game night. Whatever you decide to do, it’s important to spend quality time together outside of work and keep the two as separate as possible.

6. Think before you hire family

You may think hiring family sounds like a cakewalk. After all, how bad can it be? You get to work with your loved ones, right? But sometimes, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. And in some cases, working with family can cause more problems than it will solve. That’s why you need to think before you hire, especially if you are thinking about bringing more family members on board.

The last thing you want to do is hire cousin Cathy when she already has beef with Aunt Susan. Prior to hiring additional relatives for your family business, take time to consider the outcome. Does the person get along with the other family members? Is the family member actually willing to work? Will the family member cause unnecessary drama?

Consider all of the above questions each time you’re looking to hire a family member. If you think that they will be a source of stress for your business, opt to not hire them.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.

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