Saturday, February 16, 2019
In the Community

Family Dynamics

The Who, Why and How of Making a Family Business Work

No one ever said it was easy. Balancing the subtleties of family politics with the day-to-day of growing a business can be both rewarding and maddening, but it can run a lot more smoothly with the help of a professional. “Within families there are roles,” says Ellen Samimy, LMHC, a clinical psychotherapist in private practice at The Counseling Group ( “A family that has the emotional strength to look at that and not give in to those ingrained roles at work can find it very beneficial.” Samimy says even a brief workshop with a family therapist can reap huge rewards. “Organization, time management, and emotional and impulse regulation are the main executive function skills controlled by the pre-frontal lobe of our brain… Everyone is on his or her own continuum,” she explains. “[Having a successful working relationship] is about recognizing where everyone is on that continuum and adapting to it rather than trying to change them with the same old unhealthy patterns of response to each other. For those not-yet-ready for the therapist or executive coach, office, we spoke with Samimy to get her ideas and advice for making the most of family business relationships.”

Family Business Facts

Family businesses generate over 50 percent of the US Gross National Product (GNP)
Studies have shown about 35 percent of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled and represent the full spectrum of American companies from small business to major corporations

Research shows that family businesses are less likely to lay off employees regardless of financial performance.

More than 30% of all family-owned businesses survive into the second generation.

Family businesses leaders tend to embrace strategies that put customers and employees first and emphasize social responsibility.

Family businesses retain talent better than their competitors do: only 9 percent of family businesses work forces turned over annually (versus 11 percent at non-family firms), in a Harvard Business Review study.

The largest family-owned business in the US is Wal-Mart Inc., with $499.4. billion in net sales and 2.2 million employees worldwide in 2016.

Use Your Knowledge

Samimy rightfully acknowledges that family members have an edge on working together, as they already know the ins and outs of family personalities and communication styles. In other words, she explains, if you know your sister is not a morning person, try to schedule meetings in the afternoon. “It’s about being aware of behavioral patterns,” says Samimy. “It sounds broad but it really is something to look at on a daily basis. Someone with ADD might have time management problems, so you can either yell and fight about lateness or you can accept it.” Adds Samimy, “Treat family information as a treasure, not a sword.”

Words Matter

Parents bringing children into a business can be even trickier when that child is well… still a child. “Parents working with a child who is less than 24 years old, know this, you are not hiring an adult,” says Samimy. “We know that the pre-frontal cortex is the last lobe to develop and does not finish until somewhere around 26.” Samimy suggests creating what she calls “Business Boundaries,” a written list that suits the family personality, business and specific patterns of behavior. She also advises that each generation think carefully about the words they use. “You might say ‘We will never bring up that one is younger and one is older, just that one has more experience.’ Words make a difference.”

Start From A Place of Gratitude

On the flip side, children working with older generations would do well to invoke change at a respectful pace, even with something as seemingly innocent as a communication tool. “It can be as simple as writing things out versus using Excel, or Outlook versus Chrome,” says Samimy. “Don’t start by pushing them into something. Even if the company is very wired, there are ways to respect choice on how parents want to communicate with longtime clients.” She advises making decisions together and even making provisions within the change for those who are slower to adapt. When change is inevitable, “explain why it is critical for the business and make sure the parent knows she/he will not be left out.”

Use Your Power For Good

Not all aspects of family business have to be complicated. Samimy says one of the great things about working together is the ability to make positive change and say, or do, things that other employees cannot. She cites one father-daughter relationship in which the daughter, working within her father’s company, is often able to do things like remind her father to order in dinner for his team during late meetings, something another team member wouldn’t dare to do. The same family was also able to bring their son-in-law into the mix, a notoriously delicate addition. To than end, says Samimy “Collect ideas from your spouse of what behavior and communication works OR does not work traditionally in the family you are joining.” In other words, share your knowledge.

Find Your Style

Not all families are the same. What works well for some may not be the right choice for others. Samimy cites one family where a father and two sons run the day-to-day with another sibling working in a different profession. Though the family tries not to bring work home, they do take a large family vacation every year and rotate which brother will stay back to keep an eye on the business. “The family vacation is a wonderful unifier that has nothing to do with the business and that’s a great thing that works for them,” she explains. Samimy says finding something that fits your style is key, whether it be humor, sports, achievement dinners or annual family meetings. And if all else fails, Samimy says professional help is never a bad idea. “Family therapy is not for sick or dysfunctional families,” she says. “It’s a positive thing, these are tricks to making work easier.”

Andrea Carneiro
the authorAndrea Carneiro