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5 tips for running a harmonious family business

Family businesses are one of the most common forms of business in the UK, and growing. According to research by Oxford Economics, over 30,000 new family businesses have been incorporated since 2010, meaning this type of company now accounts for 39% of private sector employment and generates over a quarter of UK GDP.

Although working with family members has its benefits, including knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, it can also have its drawbacks. Some families can even end up falling out over disagreements in the business; not only having a potential negative impact on everyday working operations but also damaging family relationships, sometimes irreversibly.

Here are our top tips on working with family members whilst maintaining a stable, harmonious and profitable working environment.

Employ for the right reasons
Family businesses may not all start out as a collective family project, but rather one individual family member setting up a company with others joining along the way to ‘help out’. We all need a helping hand now and then and employing family members can seem like a shortcut to loyal and trustworthy staff. However, these two characteristics alone are not enough to take family members into the fold of a business. Each employee or fellow director, whether a family member or not, should have the necessary skills in order to fulfil their role at a high level. Desire and motivation are also key considerations here – joining the family business might seem like the easy option, especially for younger family members, and it is important that the desire to contribute and succeed is present.

Define clear roles
An attitude of everyone ‘getting stuck in’ often prevails in family businesses. Whilst this is a nice approach to have in principle, it isn’t always the most productive. Responsibilities can soon overlap and family members themselves, let alone any other employees in the business, may not know where their role starts and finishes. Each individual in a business should have a clear role and defined set of responsibilities. A reporting structure should also be present, assuming a normal ‘hierarchical’ structure is in place in your business. This way, each individual knows what is expected of them, what they hold responsibility for and who they ultimately report to.

Don’t take each other for granted
In our everyday lives it can be easy to take the things (and people) that matter to us most for granted. This applies to a business context too – it’s all too easy to take liberties when times are good; letting the little things that accumulate into ongoing success pass us by without a second thought. In most businesses, however, it is the actions and contributions of individuals that allow for growth and success. So don’t take this for granted – express gratitude and reward staff as and when appropriate for their efforts. This point applies to all employees, not just family members.

Don’t take your work home
If you live with as well as work with members of your family, you can soon find that every conversation becomes dominated by work. Even if you do not live together, for example older children and their parents, or brothers and sisters in business together, social gatherings can soon veer into business territory. This is not altogether healthy – home and family life is meant to allow an escape from the pressures of working and if work is beginning to encroach into this time, you can soon feel that you never get a break.

Whilst talking about work is natural in most relationships, it is important to recognise if conversations about business matters are getting too in depth or occurring too frequently. Try to have a rule that discussions about work should take place during working hours only. It may seem odd to set up meetings with a close member of your family, but if it helps to stop the lines between the work and social environments getting blurred, follow this approach.

Be consistent
You may think that letting a family member finish early on a Friday afternoon once in a while is a kind gesture. However, in this day and age of employment legislation, you really won’t be doing anyone a favour. It is important that all employees are treated equally and fairly, no matter what their relationship is to you.

Here at Agenda we’re well versed when it comes to working with family businesses. Whilst this type of business structure has its negative aspects, there’s little doubt that family businesses can be extremely successful and rewarding.

  1. Catherine says:

    Great read ~ insightful thank you

  2. Daria says:

    Great advice! Very useful. Working with my husband on a daily basis I can certainly apply a lot of that into my life 🙂

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