Challenges of being a family member in a family business

Picture of John Broons
John Broons

John Broons is a globally awarded family business expert. One of only three people in Australia to hold the coveted title of Fellow of Family Firm Institute (Boston, USA), John has dedicated his working career to answering the question: how do I guide and support families in business to a place where they’re thriving?

When envisioning a family business, the idyllic image of harmony and success may come to mind. However, the reality can be quite different when you are balancing family ties with business responsibilities. In this article, I delve into the challenges faced by family members within a business, discussing the balance of nurturing family bonds amidst the inevitable challenges.

Family members having a business meeting about their family business.
Balancing family ties and business responsibilities

Dual responsibilities

Being a family member in a business adds a layer of complexity. Not only are individuals responsible for their roles within the company, but they also bear the weight of family ties. Striking the right balance between professional obligations and personal relationships requires finesse and careful navigation.

Navigating tough conversations

As you may have read in my recent article about negotiating with family members in business together, the inherent challenges include tough conversations, disagreements, and the potential for disharmony. Family members must develop the skills to navigate these conversations with sensitivity, ensuring that business decisions do not strain family bonds and vice versa.

Avoiding the fear of failure

The fear of failure is heightened when family is involved. The stakes seem higher, and the potential impact on both the business and family relationships can be significant. Overcoming this fear requires a proactive approach and a commitment to addressing challenges head-on.

Nurturing family bonds amidst business challenges

Open communication as a foundation

Communication is key to nurturing family bonds amidst business challenges. Establishing open channels where family members can express concerns, celebrate successes, and address conflicts creates a foundation for understanding and support.

Shared values and vision

At the heart of every successful family business is a shared set of values and a vision for the future. Aligning these core elements helps family members navigate challenges with a unified purpose, fostering a sense of continuity and prosperity.

 Learning from cautionary tales

Cautionary tales abound in the realm of family businesses, where what happens in the boardroom spills over into the living room. Acknowledging these stories and learning from them becomes a crucial aspect of proactively managing the ‘family’ part of the family business.

Proactive management: changing the narrative

Having owned a family business and then working with family businesses for over four decades, has revealed to me that the interplay between love and money can be challenging. However, it’s essential to recognise that keeping families connected and businesses thriving simultaneously is a skill that can be honed.

Education and clarity

The right education provides family members with the tools to understand the unique complexities of being in a family business. Clarity in roles, expectations, and communication channels further contributes to a smoother navigation of challenges.

Conversations that transform

Proactively managing the ‘family’ part involves regular, open conversations. These discussions, centered around emotionally fraught issues, can transform challenges into opportunities for growth, strengthening both the business and family bonds.

Thriving together

While the challenges of being a family member in business are undeniable, thriving is not only possible but also immensely rewarding. By nurturing family bonds amidst challenges, and proactively managing the ‘family’ aspect of the business, families can not only weather the storms but emerge stronger, united, and poised for long-term success. It’s not just a business; it’s a legacy built on the foundations of family, continuity, and prosperity.

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