Strong and harmonious family teams are good indicators of a healthy business family culture. The absence of good teamwork in a family is a common cause of conflict when family members are involved in a family business.
Most families want to believe that their “familyness” means that family members naturally work well together as a team, and that everybody is on the same page when it comes to anything to do with their family business. But the reality is often much darker than that. After the accidents of birth that bind individuals together as a family, many family groups don’t put much effort into building a great family team, for their family business.
12 Characteristics / Requirements for a Great Family Team (inspired by many sources over many years). Great family teams display the following characteristics:
- Clarity (of purpose). Every team member understands the team’s objectives. Those objectives are captured in a plan, which includes clear goals.
- Certainty. Everyone understands their assigned roles and responsibilities, and knows how to discharge them.
- Commitment. Each team member is motivated to discharge their assigned responsibilities.
- Comfort. The team environment is inviting, stimulating and comfortable. It’s where team members want to be, doing what they’re doing.
- Respect. Everyone deserves their place on the team, and is entitled to have an opinion on any issue.
- Trust. Team members are confident they can rely on each other to do whatever needs to be done, whenever it needs doing, the way it needs to be done.
- Inclusion. Everybody is adequately informed about, and sufficiently involved in, relevant team activities.
- Participation. Everyone is a willing participant in an open process. There are no passengers, nor any hidden agendas.
- Problem-solving. Formal problem-solving processes encourage respectful: analysis, discussion, debate, and option generation. The team always seeks optimal solutions, and consciously avoids easy, or pollical, compromises.
- Decision-making. The team aims to achieve consensus on all issues without needing to vote. If a vote is required, it’s done according to agreed process.
- Solidarity. Decisions properly made by all, are decisions properly kept, by all.
- Continuous learning. Regular performance reviews, measured against plan expectations, are used to evaluate individual and team effectiveness and to provide a basis for celebration, commiseration, adjustment and improvement.
Using the list above, evaluate the state and nature of your business and family teams. If you placed a cross beside any of the above 12 Characteristics, it’s a potential, if not already active, cause of conflict.
Family business teams are shaped by the family and business cultures that surround them. Improving teamwork requires an investment in improving culture.
If family teamwork is not all it needs to be, and especially if there are tensions within the family group, you need to take things back to basics before trying to improve anything. When everybody reaches a functional baseline for working together, then start implementing a structured program for team building.
The following process applies to business and family teams, whether or not they include family or non-family individuals. They’re all basically human, after all!
- Interview team members to work out: who’s who in the zoo; identify issues; assess personalities; is it safe to proceed?
- (Optional) formal psychometric testing, with individual and group debriefs, to support discussion re communication styles and relationship dynamics.
- Workshop #1 (Meetings): Meeting Processes and Rules; Code of Conduct; Problem-solving and Decision-making processes; Voting Rules.
- Workshop #2 (Strategy & Structure): Family Plan and/or Business Plan + organisational functions and structures to assist plan implementation.
- Workshop #3 (Roles & Responsibilities): Develop individual job descriptions (business and/or family) in response to new org charts. Include: roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, in addition to required attributes.
- Progress Review Meetings (Family & Business): conduct regular meetings to review progress, recognise success, direct support where it’s most needed, and adjust things that aren’t working well.
The forced working together required by these process stages provides lots of opportunity to build respect, trust and excellent performance in the team, without making it too obvious that one of your prime objectives is to build strong teams, on the job, while benefitting the family and/or the business, in the process.
If the family intends to pass its business down to following generations, it should start building the skills and coherence of its family team as early as possible, irrespective of intentions for individual family members to work in the family business in the future.
Get siblings or cousins working with each other, from a young age, to familiarise them with working on serious projects, with other family members.
Under Family Council guidance, establish some or all of the following committees, or Working Groups:
Commence business education, and encourage team collaboration, by using workshops to develop ground rules for each committee. Include topics like:
- Setting goals and making plans.
- Communication and negotiation.
- Team building and managing team performance.
- Meeting Processes and Rules.
- Code of Conduct.
- Problem-solving and Decision-making.
These workshops provide good opportunities for developing knowledge, collaboration skills and teamwork. Depending on the ages of participants, the family’s next generation could acquire useful business education long before they’ll be exposed to same through conventional education channels.
Great teamwork is a primary defence against family business conflict – nobody is going to get into a serious fight when they’re all “loved up.”