How To Work With Your Family (and Not Get Disowned)

How To Work With Your Family (and Not Get Disowned)

Family-owned business generate over half the GNP, according to Forbes, but only a third make it past one generation. It’s hard to quantify exactly why some family businesses don’t last – market forces certainly have a big effect – but it’s safe to say that some fall apart for the same reason your last holiday dinner ended in tears. For many people, it’s hard to spend an afternoon in the company of their loved ones, much less the bulk of a working lifetime.

This is true even if all the members of the family and business love each other very, very much. The difference between getting along as people and getting along as co-workers is that family members can survive with poor boundaries and weak communication skills, as long as they don’t spend all their time together. Co-workers don’t have that luxury.

Of course, there are huge upsides to working with family that can make any difficulties well worth it, including getting to spend time with some of your favorite people, building something lasting in your own family’s name, and knowing that you’re not working yourself to the bone to build someone else’s empire. But to get to the positives, you have to work smart, as well as hard.

How To Work With Your Family

Here’s how:

Ask for expert help from non-family members when required.

This is perhaps the most important thing to know about working with family: no matter how smart, skilled, and dedicated you all are, at some point, you’ll need outside help to make things work. Whether that’s hiring an accountant to plan your tax strategy or a lawyer to review your contracts, sometimes, you need a professional.

“Hey,” I hear you say. “We have a lawyer and an accountant in the family. No problem!”

That’s great – most of the time. But as a rule of thumb, if the issue is likely to cause contention down the line – if it has to do with money, in other words – it’s a good idea to have an outside expert involved. That doesn’t mean you have to go with his or her opinion. It just means that it’s smart to have a neutral third party looking at these issues from an outside perspective.

Treat everyone as you’d like to be treated.

Maybe you’re from a long line of yellers, or a collection of shy, quiet introverts. Regardless of how you express yourselves, the most important thing is to be kind to one another.

Look at it this way: you’re going to be spending the rest of your lives together, in and out of work. It’s easier to take a beat than it is to take back something you don’t mean. Count to 10, be courteous, and above all else, try to give each other the benefit of the doubt, especially when deadlines loom or the busy season heats up.

Be polite, but speak plainly.

It’s important to be nice, but it’s just as important to be clear. When you work with family, you don’t have the luxury of hoping that your meaning comes across. Be kind, be calm, but be direct. Don’t assume that you’re understanding each other, just because you have a shorthand from spending your lives together.

Set expectations.

Whether it’s who’s working Thursday night or which sibling will head the company once Mom retires to Boca, it’s important for everyone to know what’s going on.

Again, communication is key here, but so is being honest with yourself and each other. If you want people to trade off weekend shifts, say so; if you see yourself opening your own store instead of managing the family’s, say that, too.

Know when to walk away.

Whether you’re the founder, contemplating handing over the reins to the next generation, or the next generation, deciding whether you want to pick up said reins, it’s important to know when to stay and when to go. Stay too long at the party, and you could wind up resentful – or fostering resentment in a family member.

Working with family doesn’t have to be easy, but it should be rewarding. Making sure it stays that way should be the first thing on your agenda, no matter what else you’re trying to accomplish together.

Suggested Reading: 5 Communication Tips to Make Your Day Easier

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  • February 28, 2022