(by Megan Juday as appeared at FamilyBusinessStrategyGroup.com)

Many families who own family businesses have conflict embedded in their culture. Often it starts a generation or two before the current generation. Conflict gets passed down through the generations as part of the family legacy, just like grandma’s china or grandpa’s watch collection. This conflict is unresolvable because those who had the original conflict aren’t around to come to any resolution. My recommendation to families in this situation is to figure out how to get past it, rather than try to rehash old arguments.

The best way to move beyond the family conflict is to stop the conflict cycle. If the same two people always start an argument in family meetings, or the family always votes along branch lines, this situation where the destructive dynamic occurs needs to change. The main reason this is destructive is because the conflict will never get resolved since it didn’t originate with the people carrying out the argument.

Changing the environment doesn’t mean not allowing the individuals prone to arguments be in the same room together, but it does mean that the family can stop the set-up for the argument. Have the chair or someone else intervene in the cycle and act as mediator outside of the family meeting.

Ask yourself if this argument can be resolved without additional information. If it is a yes/no argument where the two individuals take opposite sides, then the likelihood of getting resolution without a great deal of work is very small. This is a great opportunity to institute a task force to research and add different perspectives to the content of the disagreement. To get to a resolution, the individuals need to get past looking at the conflict as a black or white.

Changing the environment also means avoiding big emotional upheavals in the fabric of the family. Families need to build a repeatable and consistent decision-making process. Without this consistency, the family will never be able to build trust or move past the conflict dynamic.

There is a compelling reason to get past the conflict. Without a constructive dynamic in the fabric of the family, the family can’t make progress in other significant areas. Conflict sucks the figurative air out of a room, and the family can’t address other important work like focusing on becoming a good partner with the business, increasing the stewardship capabilities of the family, preparing for inevitable transition, and building a deep bench of family director candidates and family leaders. Unresolved conflict is a guarantee for stasis.

About the Author

As the founder and principal of Family Business Strategy Group (FBSG), Meghan has developed a process for helping families define their vision, values and strategies to ensure continued stewardship of the family enterprise. FBSG constructs a framework, which is adapted for each family, that is used to build a family governance that supports strong stewardship of the business, leadership development, smooth transitions from one generation to the next and clear policies and processes that supports the family’s ability to act, not only as stewards of the business, but as stewards of family relationships. Meghan was one of the first graduates of the Family Business Stewardship Institute at the LFBC. She also sits on the Finance Committee at the Germantown Cricket Club, a non-profit organization. Meghan has a BA from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM where she graduated in 1994 with a concentration in Mathematics and Philosophy.

Meghan Juday is an enthusiastic champion for family business. Her dedication to the global family business community is rooted in her experience as the fourth generation leader and director of IDEAL Industries, now 101 years old. It was there, in her family’s business, that she developed a real heart for stewardship, and it is evidenced in her work with families as principal of the Family Business Strategy Group. She can be reached at mjuday@fbs-group.net.

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