Overcoming the Pitfalls of Running a Business with your Sibling

Your father and/or mother founded a thriving business.  Perhaps, you “kids” got involved at an early age to help in this business. Now, alas, your parent or parents are stepping back, retiring or worse yet, they have passed on. Now you and your brother/ sister are in charge. 

Don’t let running a business with your sibling – bring out the worst in you!

Recently, I was talking with a client, the owner of a family owned business. In this case, the owner is moving toward retirement and plans on relying on his two adult to take-over the business. He has commented on the value of their individual expertise and how much they have already contributed to the success of the business. But he is appalled about one thing in particular.  “When they disagree, it is as though they are two antagonistic children again and their communication with each other isn’t pretty nor professional. They argue publicly and loudly.”

Certainly, you have a lifetime of history with your sibling and you know just what buttons to push. Also, in these cases, reaction can happen at the speed of light and things can get really stirred up. Yet, I don’t have to say that this type of behavior can wreck the morale of others working in the organization and have a lasting negative effect on the culture. What’s more, devolving into this kind of communication can affect the quality of the decisions being made and ultimately impact the ongoing success of the company.

What can you do to overcome the pitfalls of running a company with your sibling?

Here are my 5 top tips:

  1. Align on your company’s vision, values and mission. This way you and your sibling will have common purpose and values to return to– even when the going gets rough. 
  2. Use the “company values” as a standard for you to follow in your own communication with each other. Create your own ground rules for what to do when you disagree. Remember that it actually can be healthy to disagree and have discourse about a particular decision but there are productive and professional ways to do that.
  3. Agree to have any contentious conversations off-site or behind closed doors. Do not act in ways you do not want to see emulated by your employees. When you “act out” it sends a message to all other employees that “we permit this type of behavior here” which destroys your credibility as a leader and the culture of your organizations.
  4. Create a Strategic Plan – that encompasses the strategies, tactics and actions you plan to take over, say, the next 3- 5 years to be a successful company and grow it to its next level. The process of creating this plan will help flush out the areas where you are aligned and other areas where decisions still need to be made.
  5. Have regularly scheduled planning meetings together. –  I have found that in some family owned businesses, communication with each other is “ad hoc”  meaning that you may talk with your sibling business partner many times throughout the day about what is going on that day or how to handle an immediate crisis situation, but there is not a regularly scheduled time every week or two weeks to just talk about the “big picture” – how you are progressing toward reaching your goals and “course corrections” that you may need to take.

In summary, though there are challenges that come with running a business with your sibling, remember to be leaders that others in your organization can admire and to return to your mission, values and vision when things get tough.