Surprisingly, according to a recent study in psychology today, one-third of adults have distant or contentious relationships with their siblings.
When two or more siblings work in the family business, hostilities from old sibling rivalries can jeopardize the very survival of the business in the wake of the founder’s impending retirement or death.
What causes sibling rivalries in the first place?
Oftentimes, siblings receive unequal treatment or affection from one or both parents while growing up. Or parents and other relatives label each child, perhaps as the smart one or the friendly one. As a result, siblings can learn from a very young age they need to compete for their parents’ attention or live with the labels imposed on them.
Such struggles often continue into adulthood and can become intensified when the family runs a business together. Here are 4 key ways to improve harmony between siblings and preserve the family business.
1. Work outside the family business.
Working outside the family business often helps younger generations gain outside exposure to alternative business techniques. But the primary benefit can be to foster each sibling’s confidence and maturity and help them each build a personal foundation for success.
2. Play to each sibling’s strengths.
Ideally, running the family business should be shared, not divided. This is best achieved by recognizing what each sibling is particularly good at and assigning roles accordingly.
Brothers Walt and Roy Disney are a perfect example. Walt was the dreamer and visionary for Disney. His older brother Roy was the detail-oriented businessman with the financial acumen to achieve the company’s vision. This successful collaboration resulted in the empire that Disney is today.
3. Communicate freely and often.
Be sure to communicate all expectations upfront and put it in writing. It’s important for siblings to treat each other as they would a non-family business partner. For instance, by not taking your sibling for granted or assuming you can each read each other’s minds.
Likewise, consult each other on key decisions that affect the daily and long-term planning of the family business. In doing so, each sibling brings his or her unique skills and abilities to the table for a successful family business.
4. Mediate financial risk-based conflicts.
Sibling conflicts can also arise when each sibling has different ideas about how the business should be run or how key decisions should be made. For example, one brother might see an opportunity to diversify the business through acquisition, while the other enjoys the stability that the business has achieved. In these cases, business meetings with a neutral mediator are essential for finding an optimal strategic solution.
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