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Sibling Rivalry in the Family Business

Can brothers and sisters really work together? Or is there always an underlying rivalry, dating back to the worst of childhood rants: “Mom always liked you best!”!!! Sometimes, the family business is on the line.

Family businesses can function as well with family members, as with non-family, except when siblings are not in harmony. One of the most frequent obstacles to a thriving business founded by, and operated by, a family is a fight between, or among, siblings. Northeastern University Center for Family Business hosted a panel discussion in 2010, with two sets of siblings running two family businesses entitled “How Relatives Relate: Siblings in Business Together”. All siblings were brothers, and spoke about their family relationship and experiences running their family company, presenting guidelines to handling common problems. Childhood rivalries surface in the workplace, making the business another forum for resentments and competition of a complex, lifelong relationship. [fambiz.com]

To teach how to transform sibling resentment and dysfunction into a healthy rivalry, focused on goals that further the family business, four points were made by the panel.

  • Siblings need open communication. They need to talk over their disagreements, instead of letting them fester
  • Although communication in a family business is a primary concern, siblings particularly need to be clear about what each of them is supposed to do — their roles must be understood and accepted by all. Two brothers spoke about one recent difference of opinion about the installation of a new computer system for the business. They brought in an outside expert and decided to accept the expert's opinion (as many family delivery businesses that decide to use route optimization software have done). Owners and operators of a 36 year old family fire extinguisher firm, the brothers faced down another challenge, splitting the company into two, to handle the longstanding monitored fire-extinguisher business and the business that manufactures pressure gauges, as separate entities, according to Security Systems News [securitysystemsnews.com]
  • Siblings need to temper the business climate with a sense of humor. Family members in conflict can turn a tense situation with a humorous comment, drawing from their childhood experiences and triggering a good laugh.
  • Any time spent together outside the workplace is time well spent. The brothers all agreed they see each other in informal events, go to a restaurant, and talk.

Four points — simple, but effective.