With the drastic changes we’ve seen over the past year in the business world, it might be the perfect time to put on your entrepreneur’s hat and try something new. And you understand that it might very well take a village (or a rich relative) to turn your idea into a reality.
So, you talk for hours on the phone with your brother to brainstorm. And once you have somewhat of a game plan, you both reach out to your grandfather (hopefully, the silent money partner) to share your enthusiasm. Gramps gets caught up in your excitement and agrees to finance your endeavor. Green light!
Now what? How do you protect yourself, your family, and your sanity? How do you avoid conflict?
The thing about conflict in a family business is that it’s way more complicated than conflict in a non-family workplace, mainly because there can be underlying issues having nothing at all to do with the actual business. These issues might become more prevalent as the business gains success. It could then become challenging to to separate 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. When a family member becomes the main benefactor, expectations of repayment may get misconstrued. “Hey Gramps, don’t you remember? You said you were investing in our future. We thought the money was a gift.”
But your grandfather has a different recollection, and suddenly the aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews all want to weigh in. The suggestion of going to court gets bounced around, and then there’s bedlam. 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 to consider 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 sincerely doubt it.