Conflict can tear a family business to shreds. Even if you’re not part of one, consider the T.V. series Dallas and Succession, whose dog-eat-dog plots are often only slightly exaggerated. “What’s less often recognized,” says Josh Baron, Columbia professor and co-founder of BanyanGlobal Family Business Advisors, “is that too little conflict in a family business can have an equally destructive impact.”
“The impact of too much or too little conflict on both the family and their enterprise are almost identical,” says Baron. In both cases, the business can suffer from limited growth, poor decision-making, a loss of competitive edge—or even complete dissolution. All this can be a result of external conflict (shouting), or internal conflict (quiet seething).
Baron says conflict is a “Goldilocks problem.” Both ends of the spectrum are unsustainable–so the middle way is best. The earth itself is in what astronomers refer to as a Goldilocks Zone—far enough from the sun not to overheat, close enough to sustain life. In a healthy family business “difficult issues can be raised, addressed, and resolved without doing lasting damage to relationships or shared assets.”
We have worked with family businesses for over three decades and we agree that conscious conflict is a key to success. Is your family business in the Goldilocks zone? Ask yourself: 1) Is there general satisfaction and belief that you do better together than apart? 2) Are decisions about critical issues being made? 3) Are family relationships good enough to work and celebrate together?
Is your family business able to handle conflict in a healthy way? What are your best practices for doing so? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
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