Many family businesses struggle or even fail because some family members feel like they do more or are more important than other family members in the company. While many times this can be true, other times it is just a lack of a few key accountability components that lead to misconceptions and a lack of trust.
My brothers and I have been partners for over 30 years in multiple businesses. It hasn’t always been a smooth partnership. In the early years, we got so lost in trying to outwork each other we struggled with growing the business. Why? Because we spent so much time IN the business and not enough time working ON the business. We also wasted a lot of time and energy questioning and double-checking each other’s work. Sticking our nose under each other’s tents also led to some heated arguments, some of which took place in front of employees. This resulted in a less-than-ideal company culture and subliminally caused employees to choose sides, which created a silo effect at work. This all changed when we took the following action steps:
- Clearly defined our areas of accountability. If we didn’t know definitively who was responsible for what, how would the employees know?
- Agreed that each of us had the final decision in our clearly defined areas of accountability. The other partners could ask for information and give input, but ultimately the final decision would be made by the partner that was accountable for the department the decision impacted.
- Made every effort to communicate better with each other as “real time” as possible or be anticipatory in our communication rather than reactionary. Think “asking permission” instead of “begging forgiveness”. It is always better, especially in a family business, to know what your partners are doing before they do it.
- Decided that even if we didn’t fully agree with another partner’s decision that we had to present a united front to the employees. This strengthened our collective leadership and helped break down silo walls, creating a single unified team instead of three separate fiefdoms in our company.
Having more freedom within our areas of accountability and increasing our communication with each other drastically helped to improve our company culture. Our shift to clearly defined accountability also reduced our stress and made partnership in the family business a much more joyful and rewarding experience, deepening our bond as brothers.