For many people, the idea of working with family members has a negative stigma.
They imagine scenes of siblings squabbling in meetings and partners bickering at the water cooler. But these needn’t be the case!
Alison Dearden, who has worked alongside her parents at Alison Handling for over 25 years, knows just how well it can work:
‘As family businesses like Alison Handling have proven all over the world, running a company with relatives can be one of the most productive ways of working thanks to an underlying trust and mutual respect.
‘The strong sense of community in a family business is one that just can’t be beaten. We’re all in it together!’
Though getting this dynamic just right is definitely a fine art, there are some key rules that can help you on your way:
1. Set some boundaries
When relatives are involved, setting boundaries is essential to success.
Without them, the lines between business and family can become blurred, leading to a number of counterproductive scenarios that can seriously affect the working atmosphere.
It may seem obvious, but having a clear stance on how related colleagues behave with one another can be the difference between a cohesive team and an unruly rabble.
Jim Cregan, co-founder of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee, started the company with his sister, Suze, in 2010. Taking the business from a back-bedroom experiment to selling one carton of coffee every nine seconds, he’s a firm believer in setting clear boundaries as early as possible:
‘In a family business, you can become personal over business matters, which is just one of those things. The sooner you can learn when that line is crossed to stop and move away, the better.’
2. Divide roles and responsibilities
Another effective way to avoid conflict between family members on the same team is to give each a definitive set of roles and responsibilities.
Stepping on people’s toes at work never ends well, and tensions can get particularly high when relatives are involved. But if everyone knows exactly what they should be doing, and who to turn to should they need a hand, things run a lot more smoothly.
David Ingram, managing director at digital marketing agency, Bring Digital, started the business with the help of his wife, Susie:
‘Myself and Susie both look after very distinct aspects of the business, meaning there’s very little overlap in our roles.’
‘We trust each other completely, and splitting out responsibilities in this way lets us get on with our daily tasks efficiently and without any issues.’
3. Treat family members fairly
Considering the close relationship with them, there may be the temptation to treat family members more favourably when it comes to things like progression. On the flip side, it can also be easier to be unfair with relatives who rub you up the wrong way.
Avoid letting your relationship with a family member taint your behaviour towards them in any way. Unfair treatment in the office can cause resentment between colleagues, driving morale and productivity down in the process.
4. Seek outside advice
If your entire team are family members, it can be like living in a bubble at times. Turning to outside sources for advice on a regular basis can give you some real perspective and keep you on the road to success.
Consulting with professionals from other like minded businesses is one of the best ways to learn new ways of thinking, and will encourage you to step back and look at your operations from a more objective point of view.
Depending on your situation, this could also involve hiring an advisor, or could even mean bringing in people from outside of the family to work in key senior positions.
5. Keep family and work life separate
Switching off from work can be difficult. Even more so when you’re surrounded by your colleagues at home as well as the office. But it’s incredibly important to keep family and work life as separate as possible, for the sake of everyone’s wellbeing.
Founded in 2007 by managing director Ross Hooper-Nash, Jeffrey Ross is a Cardiff-based sales and lettings agency with family at its core. Their team have rules about this very idea, and they all understand the importance of separating work issues from family time. Director, Ross, sees this as a real positive:
‘For me, one of the hardest things is being able to switch off after work and leave the office behind, but working with my family has made me put real effort into separating the two, and I’d advise anybody going into business with their families to do the same.’
‘We have a great working-relationship at Jeffrey Ross, but it’s nice to be able to come home and see my brothers or my parents without having to talk about work and to just enjoy spending time together, like anybody else would.’