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Family businesses often take the family to work and bring the business home.
Remember this: you should run a family business like a business – not like a family where there’s a place for all those family emotions that knit people together.
Too often, too much emotion comes into play in a family business and this can ruin the business and put stress on family relationships. It’s important to have business meetings, but they should be run according to the rules of any meeting.
Here are some tips:
  • It is important to start a meeting on time
  • Issue an agenda in order to make sure that everyone is prepared for the meeting
  • Send the agenda to all family and non-family members before the meeting and ask if they want any items added to it for discussion
  • If anyone can’t attend the meeting, ask them to send an apology
  • Conduct the meeting in an orderly fashion. Have one person chair the meeting so that this person keeps control of the flow
  • Focus on the objectives of the meeting. If any issue can’t be resolved make sure a person is appointed to follow up and seek a solution
  • End the meeting on a positive note. Seek to have any business issues between family members worked out as quickly as possible after the meeting. If you find that squabbling occurs every meeting it might be wise to bring in a facilitator – an independent person who can assist in cutting out the conflict
  • Send out minutes of the meeting to all who attended
  • If there’s continuous tension, seriously consider employing a third party to help resolve any ‘burning’ issues.
Objective eyes
Many family businesses hate seeking outside advice or using consultants and would rather struggle on with each meeting more like a battleground. They like to keep things in the family.
A family business usually has good lawyers and accountants but they only let them get involved in the business as the need for their services arises - tax time, renewal of a lease, etc.
What happens is that family members get to a point where they’re so stressed about the business, that they don’t know where to turn.
There will often be a major turning point for one of the family members who wants change and is prepared to do what it takes to make it happen. Sometimes it can be a spouse who’s fed up and threatens to walk out, or sometimes one of the family members gets sick - both situations necessitate change.
So how does change occur? Unravelling the issues between family members can be so complex and quite often a dispute that happens in the present can be traced back to some issue that happened way back between siblings or close relatives.
Experts in dispute resolution can help unravel some of these issues and then the family business can move on once they recognise that this conflict is negatively impacting on the family and the business.
The late Jason Lea of the chocolate success story Darrell Lea was a major force behind Family Business Australia. He admits that squabbles in his family were constant.
At one time they went public and outsiders were brought in, but every meeting was still a major fight and eventually the family decided that if they were going to fight with strangers they may as well buy back the company and just stick to fighting with family members!
Maybe a different strategy could have prevented this heartache...
Talking about the next generation
In family businesses, patriarchs are famous for stifling the development of their sons and daughters because they fail to delegate, share responsibility and train them for succession.
Whether you plan for it or not, there will almost certainly come a time when you’ll have to step aside, be it for ill health or old age. It is your responsibility to see that there’s an understudy prepared to take over - this takeover should happen with a minimal disruption and should ideally be capable of doing the job better.
Among the top ten reasons for business failure is the unwillingness of the owners to build up an effective support team, which not only adds more skill and expertise to the operation but also gives relief to the owners - both physical and mental. The most important asset of a business is usually the owner or founder and all too often this key person overworks themselves.

Don’t do yourself a disservice - teach your children (and your employees well!). 

Published on: Friday, August 29, 2008

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