Who’s the boss?

Kate Russell
(Adelaide Conflict Management)

I have worked with a number of family businesses where the chain of command is hard to distinguish. There are often two or three members of the family who appear to be running the business but there is no real structure and it slows down the decision making process.

Alternatively, a parent is supposedly the Managing Director or CEO but they don’t have the respect of their children and other family members and their decision making authority is undermined. Or the opposite can be true; a parent has difficulty handing over the reins of power to their children. They constantly question decisions made by their children.

This often leads to feelings of being disrespected, with increasing levels of conflict and disharmony.  The reaction to the conflict may be subtle – eg not communicating information to other family members who might disagree with them or complaining to people outside of the business. Problems with communication can place the company at risk; errors may be made and opportunities lost because family members have a diminishing amount of trust and tolerance for each other.

In many cases the problems that are glaringly apparent now, have been a problem for years. There is always a history as to how these issues came about in the first place. When dealing with family business disputes we always have to go back and revisit the past.

We need to do that for two reasons; firstly we need to honour our past. We would not be where we are today if we did not do what we did in the past. We may have made some mistakes, but we are still operating and making money and that is due to the way we have managed ourselves in the past.  And secondly we need to review what has happened in the past that may have impacted on our relationships now. We need to take responsibility for any pain we may have caused or arrangements we put in place which are not as respectful as they could have been.

It takes courage to rip off the bandaid and revisit events that happened in the past; but without acknowledging and healing old wounds or dealing with some of the elephants in the room it will be hard to move forward.

We then need to review the decision making process. We need to work out what is working and what is not and we need to create new boundaries and roles and responsibilities. We need to ensure that there is absolute clarity about people’s roles and responsibilities and then honour these arrangements.

This is not a process that can happen overnight; it takes time, a great deal of care and everyone involved needs to ensure that they have a support network because unpacking old wounds can be painful. But the good news is that it is also very cathartic to finally deal with these issues. It gives the business new energy and a feeling of excitement about the future.


If you would like to book a Conflict Strategy session contact Kate at [email protected]



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