Let’s face it. To be successful in business you need to work hard and outsmart your competition.
Now add the challenge of working with a sister or brother. You may like each other. Maybe even love each other as your mother has always hoped. But that doesn’t always translate to working well together. Just like many married couples, they may love each other but they have a heck of a time hanging wallpaper together or managing the checkbook.
So how do you work better together and become an effective sibling team?
In their article entitled The Shadow Effect of the Founding Generation on the Sibling Partnership (The Family Business Advisor, May 2011), Stephanie Brun de Pontet and Kent Rhodes describe how family culture during childhood affect the way siblings work together. The authors note the following influences: competition, controlling behavior, entitlement and powerful vision.
Competition: Some parents pit their children against each other, constantly comparing the performance of one to the other. So it shouldn’t be surprising if kids in the business are “always at each other’s throat.” De Pontet and Rhodes recommend that adult children acknowledge the influence of the “competition principle” and discuss candidly the steps they need to take to develop a more collaborative relationship. It may be worthwhile to share stories of how competition impacted their sibling relationship, then move on to building empathy and understanding between the siblings independent of the parental influence.
Controlling Behavior: Within the family or family business, parents may make all the decisions, so their children never get the opportunity to work together on anything of consequence. The authors recommend sibling teams carve out special projects, such as drafting a code of conduct or creating a next generation vision for the future of the business.
Entitlement: According to the authors, if parents have raised their children with an attitude of entitlement, “all bets are off.” Imagine trying to work with someone who has an exaggerated sense of importance, who does not have a strong work ethic and who thinks things are owed to them. Advice to the adult children: take an objective look at your work ethic and willingness to make sacrifices for the good of the whole. If you are lacking in these areas and unable to change, it is unlikely you can be an effective employee or member of the ownership group. (Yikes!)
Powerful Vision: Unfortunately, the stronger the vision and personality of the business leader, the more difficult it is for the next generation to find their own voice and purpose. And any deviation from the parent’s vision may be considered blasphemy. But the authors recommend that each generation examine the business and define their own vision and purpose for the business going forward. In addition to the challenge of coming to agreement on that vision, agreeing on the pace of change will also test the siblings’ ability to work together. With open discussion, respect for different points of view and willingness to collaborate, this type of work can be an important part of creating a cohesive sibling partnership.
De Pontet and Rhodes remind us that we will likely outlive our parents by many years, and we typically meet our spouse in our 20’s, so the people with whom we really share life’s journey are our brothers and sisters. While building a strong and effective sibling team can be challenging, the effort can be very worthwhile. Their recommendation: “If you have the opportunity and responsibility to deepen your bond to your siblings….. make the effort to do it right!”