Teamwork, The Key to Long-Term Success
THE GLOBE AND MAIL – MANAGING – Thursday, June 3, 1999, B13
Teams are often a foreign concept in family businesses. After all, founders usually do whatever they please and the next generation learns at their feet.
Basically, the question of leadership differentiates business family teams from generic ones. Who will be the leader and can the others truly be followers?
In some situations feelings that go back to early childhood can make team play virtually impossible. Collaboration carries implications of consorting with the enemy. In these situations, it's difficult to learn new habits.
But in families that work well together, collaboration may almost seem to be psychic. In cases where the family has had to learn to work as a team, it's always necessary to first put aside rivalries and labels.
Team play doesn't require everyone to like each other, only that they get their job done reliably, while respecting the contribution and dignity of others.
Successful family teams share certain common characteristics:
- A creed or mission statement. To work as a team, the family needs a shared ambition. Set up a family meeting to discuss values, goals and objectives that are clear and mutually agreeable. This discussion works best with an agenda and an outside facilitator.
- Open flow of ideas. In companies that act like teams, members of the upcoming generation must feel that their opinions are heard.
- Means for expressing and resolving conflict. Families in business together often avoid openly discussing differences. This natural fear of discord is where family and business issues get entangled, since attempts to evade business conflicts usually produce the very discord they sought to avoid.
- Shared leadership. The founder – or controlling generation – must be prepared to transfer authority for different aspects of the business to the next generation. The founder must also be prepared to train the children in the operational, financial and legal aspects of the business.
Formal systems. Founders seldom stop long enough to recognize that they are running a company from scraps of paper in their pocket or purse. They resist formal systems, partly because they have found success without it.
But others cannot learn solely by a process of osmosis. Unless the founder and the family lay out an organization and structure, no one else can act with certainty or exercise any measure of control. A formal structure can provide mechanisms for conflict resolution, shared leadership and transition from one generation to the next.
Communications. Sometimes, openness and honesty between family members are less important than maintaining harmony. It is possible to maintain family harmony while being open and honest, but if the family has never communicated this way, it is likely to lead to hostilities.
For parents, talking things through with their children in a way that separates the person and the issue is good practice for the business world. Siblings also need to realize that a lack of true communication has an impact on the business – everyone should at least get an equal opportunity to participate in discussions.
- Problem-solving and decision-making systems. Families in business need to agree on an approach to solving problems and making decisions that leaves behind the traditional parent-child relationship, which only frustrates and obstructs successful continuity of the business into the next generation.