Yet, despite its success, it had reached a ceiling.
The 4 family members who ran the company were all siblings...
And like many siblings, their relationships with each other involved a great deal of miscommunication, dysfunction, and personal conflict.
The problem was that the breakdown in their personal relationships was harming their professional relationships, clouding their decision-making abilities, and creating a culture that adversely affected hundreds of employees.
These extremely intelligent, business leaders needed help with their interpersonal skills...or human skills...
So they called us...and this is what they learned.
THE START OF A JOURNEY
Anyone who tells you that you can fix a relationship by reading a book or taking a seminar is either delusional or trying to sell you something...
Likely that book or seminar.
This isn't to say that books and seminars lack value.
Far from it.
It is just that, at best, these books and seminars can provide a starting point...or another step...in the ongoing process of improving our relationships.
This is precisely what these 4 siblings discovered after trying many different ways to remedy their interpersonal issues.
After trying many available options they still were unable to get along with each other and it was continuing to hurt the company.
They needed something that focused on changing their behaviour towards each other.
To use their words, they needed a process that focused more on the "human".
THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WITH FAMILY BUSINESSES
Before the workday even begins, family-run businesses face a series of challenges rooted in the fact that family members have long-standing personal relationships.
- The longer the personal relationship, the more likely each person is to take comments, criticisms, advice, and rejected ideas personally.
- When things become personal, there is a greater chance of reprisal, even when this behaviour hurts the company.
- Family members often practice poor interpersonal skills when dealing with one another because they know they can get away with it (how they interact with one another was established in childhood).
- Long-standing patterns of behaviour between family members can lead to missed opportunities and poor business decisions being made.
- Conflict and disagreements unrelated to the business have a tendency to come up during the work day and can often catch employees in the middle.
- Family members who don't get along forget they are in a professional environment and behave like they would around the dinner table, which reduces employee confidence in them as a leadership team.
- When family members don't get along, employees don't always know which one to follow which creates division among employees.
KEY LESSONS FOR FAMILY RUN BUSINESSES
After speaking with each of the 4 members of the family involved in the business, we realized that they needed to focus on 5 key areas:
#1: STOP TAKING THINGS PERSONALLY
If you have read some of our previous articles, you may be familiar with what we have called the "mego".
Just as our ego places an emphasis on our "I", our mego causes us to see everything as happening to "me".
Put another way, it is our mego that causes us to take things so personally.
A car cuts us off on the road and instead of considering why it happened, our mego immediately jumps to "how dare they do that to ME! They did that on purpose to ME! They cut ME off on purpose".
At work, our mego gets in the way when someone doesn't like our idea. Instead of thinking it may not be as good an idea as we first believed, our mego makes us think, "they don't like my idea because they don't like ME. They rejected my idea because they are trying to get back at ME".
Because of the long history family members have with one another, their megos are far more likely to interfere and result in bad behaviour.
So the first thing we worked on with these 4 siblings was helping them to put their megos behind them so that they could see situations more objectively and not take things so personally.
As the saying goes, sometimes a banana is just a banana.
#2: REFLECT HONESTLY ON HOW YOUR BEHAVIOUR IS AFFECTING OTHERS
A by-product of our megos, the more caught up we are with how things are affecting us, the less we consider how our behaviour is affecting others.
2%ers negatively affect others and don't care because they believe they were right in their actions.
The other 98% of us don't want to harm others and when we do it is unintentional.
This was the next thing we worked with these 4 siblings on....
Always and honestly reflect on how our words and actions have affected others.
When we are aware we have harmed someone unintentionally, apologize immediately and genuinely.
The more aware a person is of how their behaviour affects others, the less likely they are to act and react to others badly.
#3: TRUST & RESPECT EACH OTHER
A relationship that isn't based on mutual trust and respect is a relationship that can't function.
It was critical for each of these 4 siblings to respect the boundaries of their own and each other's jobs in the company.
This meant they needed to stop getting involved in each others business and, instead, trust one another that each person was doing their job properly and to the best of their ability.
This didn't mean that one sibling couldn't offer ideas or advice to another...
It simply meant that each person needed to understand the difference between offering advice and telling someone what to do.
This process was closely related to #1...because each sibling needed to trust that any advice offered was not a personal sleight but rather an legitimate suggestion on how to improve.
#4: COMMUNICATION IS ABOUT NEEDS, NOT BLAME
Most people communicate far better with complete strangers than they do with family.
Family members, because of the history, tend to be horrible communicators with one another.
A major hurdle we had to overcome with these 4 siblings running the family business was changing how they communicated with one another.
Most of their communication involved criticism and blame.
This accomplished little other than to create a defensive reaction that was more a retaliation than a response.
It also set a very negative and harmful tone for the overall culture of the business.
Therefore, great effort has been placed on the siblings focusing their communication on what they need from each other and how the actions of the others have affected them...
NOT on blame or what the others did wrong.
The purpose of communication is to create a better future, not relive the past.
#5: LET GO OF THE PAST
Speaking of the past, another major hurdle this family run business had to overcome was constantly re-introducing the past into the present.
Each of the 4 siblings agreed that none of them were the same person they were 10 years ago...
Yet, things that one sibling or the other did when they were children or something that happened 5 years ago at Christmas kept being brought up.
This meant they were setting each other up to fail because no matter what they did, each would forever be haunted by past mistakes.
The 4 had to learn that the past was the past...
And they needed to let the past rest.
Their focus needed to be on their behaviour, their interactions, and their decisions in the present.
This would only be possible if they could let go of the past.
Today, these 4 siblings have dramatically improved their willingness and ability to work along side one another.
They are communicating far better and are enjoying working with each other once again.
Their trust for each other is more obvious, the respect the efforts of one another, and all 4 are now working in the same direction towards the same goal.
While they cannot quantify the benefit of the renewed relationships that have resulted from the development of their interpersonal, or human, skills...
They fully acknowledge that if they had not begun this journey they, as a family and as a business, would not be where it is today.
Family businesses can be both an amazing experience and the source of tremendous stress and tension.
However, if family members are able to overcome the obstacles that come with having a long history with one another...
If they can learn to communicate well, trust each other, and let go of the past...
They can form an iron-clad relationship that translates to how they treat their employees and customers as well.
For more information on how to improve family-run businesses, check out the Law of Cooperative Action Personal Mastery Program: