“There’s no conflict in MY family’s business.  It runs smoothly, like clockwork, just the way my grandfather envisioned when he started it in 1959,” SAID NO ONE. EVER.

The thing about conflict in family business is that it’s way more complicated than conflict in the non-family workplace.  Why?  Because there are many other underlying issues which factor in because of family ties.  Irrespective of whether the family member who started the business still has his/her hand in it, or whether it’s been acquired by siblings or cousins through retirement or inheritance, it’s impossible to separate the family history from the day-to-day business operation.  Factors such as birth order, long-held grudges, perceptions of favoritism, and outright jealousy can and will penetrate the board room.  In the case of inheritance, maybe the intentions of the founder weren’t clearly articulated in his/her estate plan.  And what if circumstances have drastically changed as a result of the passage of time, and the business succession plan is no longer relevant?  What if the family’s dysfunction interferes with the company’s future success?

We’ve all seen family business depicted in the movies and on television.  When Jay retired and handed the closet business over to his daughter Claire, in #ModernFamily, all sorts of conflict arose.  Claire tried to run the business in what she perceived to be her father’s style, only to find resistance from the employees.  Because Claire was desperate for her father’s approval, her business decisions were obviously skewed.

The closet company in #ModernFamily is fictional, but the scenario is real.  Do you have any idea what might happen to a family in business together if lawyers got involved in a dispute?  You’re right.  Relationships undoubtedly would be destroyed,  quite possibly permanently.  The future of the business would be impacted.

So, it will be of no surprise to you that I’m going to suggest an alternative to litigation.  A successful, cost-efficient, and far-reaching solution:  Mediation.  In a setting way less stressful than a court room, a Mediator will help every family member to have an equal voice in raising the issues, presenting important background information that may not be entirely known to the others, and ultimately, reaching an ideal outcome.

“This won’t work in my family,” might be your initial reaction to mediation.  “Nobody listens.  They’re too stubborn.  It’s always been this way.”  Remember that Mediators have been trained to help people communicate.  A Mediator will not tell you how to resolve your family’s issues, nor suggest ways to improve the structure of the business.  Rather, she will help you brainstorm possible solutions and, in the process, the Mediator will help each family member to understand the value he/she brings to the business.  Compromises will ensue, new ideas will be implemented, and relationships will improve.  Could that happen through a protracted battle in Court?  I doubt it.

If you know of a family whose business isn’t functioning to its potential, please let them know that mediation is a viable solution.