How to prevent sibling rivalry from ruining your family business

Sibling relationships can be complex and difficult, especially when siblings work together in a family business. Rivalry between siblings can lead to productivity problems, employee conflicts, and financial difficulties for the company. Families must find ways to work together effectively and peacefully to avoid these negative consequences. So, how do they do that? Let’s first look at what drives this conflict.

What are the triggers for conflict between siblings?

In families with an entrepreneurial parent, children may learn that competition is the best way to get their parent’s attention. This unspoken competition between siblings can continue in the family business. For example, when competing siblings are each assigned a team, they may push their coworkers to outperform each other to impress their parents and receive the emotional award for that performance.

Sibling rivalry often arises out of a sense of obligation. One feels they must join the family business, which can lead to frustration and resentment. They can take these feelings out on siblings or coworkers. As long as blame and resentment are reinforced, this vicious cycle of conflict between siblings will cause problems for the family and the business. High turnover rates, difficulty in hiring replacements, and inconsistency in meeting customer needs are all symptomatic of this fundamental problem.

An unhealthy scenario in a family business can result from siblings feeling they should have taken on different roles. Sometimes, this can make one sibling feel more entitled to the senior position.

Sibling rivalry is not always due to family feelings. Sometimes it is due to different business styles and strategies. For example, one sibling may be more risk-averse than the other, leading to conflict over financial decisions.

How to prevent sibling rivalry

The key to resolving tensions in a family business is keeping the company’s goals and purpose in mind. Determine where you want the family business to be in five to 10 years, and ensure everyone is in the right role to achieve that goal. This may mean changing roles or giving up some seniority, but it’s vital that everyone in the business is engaged and developing skills.

Siblings should not be responsible for each other at work, as this can create tension. Working together can be complicated for siblings, and when one is subordinate to the other, it often leads to power struggles. It is better to have specific roles at work that are distinct – the less overlap the better. The key is to distribute the roles on merit.

Unfortunately, equalising siblings in a family business is not always possible or practical. In these cases, parents must clearly communicate their reasoning to all children. Otherwise, a child may feel unfairly favoured or completely misunderstand the parent’s decision. There will always be emotions involved when siblings work together in a family business, but there are steps that you can take to navigate them.

Sibling conflict resolution strategies

As a succession coach, I often discuss the importance of changing perspectives with my clients. Here are the shifts I recommend that family business siblings make if they are clashing:

Consider how you can complement one another

Working with your siblings can be a great way to build a strong business. By complementing each other’s strengths, you can create a well-rounded team capable of achieving great things. Pooling your resources and talents will help you reach new heights.

Acknowledge each other’s strengths

We all have flaws and can get into the habit of criticising those closest to us. In coaching, we take a strengths-based approach. This means we spend more time recognising and building on each other’s strengths than scrutinising errors in the other’s performance.

Find common ground

Siblings in the company can often disrupt the culture of cohesion you are striving for. That’s because they have different ideas and preferences than you do. Try to find commonalities and make an effort to connect with them where you find the fit. This will help them understand where you are coming from and hopefully reduce the amount of conflict between the two of you.

Strive for unity

When family members work together in a business, they may be tempted to form special relationships with certain siblings or even staff members. Although this sometimes feels good, it can lead to divisions and cliques within the family business. To avoid this, siblings should be aware of their behaviour and try to stick together as a team.

Share the spotlight

Siblings are not the only ones looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. Many people feel the need to assert their individuality and make their mark in the world. But great leaders know that a team win is always better than an individual win. When we work together, we can create something bigger and better than anything we could ever achieve alone.

Practical strategies to avoid sibling rivalry

Families who own a business often face unique decision-making and conflict management challenges. Without a formal system in place, it can be difficult to ensure that all voices are heard and that decisions are made in the business’s best interest.

The solution: family governance. This mechanism allows families to reach a consensus on matters that are important to them while giving members a sense of identity and purpose that transcends their roles as owners.

In creating a governance system, families should focus on critical areas such as establishing behavioural guidelines, developing a shared vision and mission, fostering communication and education within the group, and coordinating philanthropic or community roles. By taking these steps, families can improve their business decisions and create lasting bonds among members.

Succession coaching can also help siblings, and other family members overcome their interpersonal differences and develop strategies to move the family business forward.

Keeping the peace in your family business

As a strategy facilitator and team development coach, Stephen Shortt has used these skills to help many a family business with their succession planning needs. Stephen’s extensive experience in personality profiling assists families to take on complementary roles within the business and ensure the legacy will prevail for generations to come. Click here to have a chat with Stephen or contact Successful Succession for any succession planning queries.