The family business is in disarray. The grandfather, who still holds all shares in the agricultural land which the family’s farming and distribution business is using, is thinking of selling this big and valuable asset. The second generation’s only child has isolated himself. He does not want to get involved in the big questions that need attention. The third-generation son is attempting desperate, inexperienced moves to save a sinking enterprise. His ideas aren’t working, and instead, are bleeding money from the business. He doesn’t want his sister, with an MBA, and with business management experience, to give advice. Their Dad doesn’t want a female, his daughter, to run the business. Competitors are sensing instability and are taking advantage of the opportunity lure customers away from a former $200,000,000 family run enterprise.
The grandfather, and founder of the family business, does not know what to do. He listens to his granddaughter who is providing him with sound advice. Meanwhile the grandfather rarely talks to his son, the CEO, who cannot gain control of his alcohol problems and is in the midst of his third divorce. The grandfather rarely talks to his grandson who he feels is driving the business down. What was once friendly third generation sibling competition, has become adversarial posturing at important business meetings.
The family is also splitting apart. What were once, when the third generation was little, invigorating conversations at the dinner table between their grandfather and their father, have now become awkward silences at family reunions. The third-generation siblings barely talk, only exchanging casual remarks at weddings, funerals, and rare family gatherings.
The family is at a critical juncture. What they decide (or do not decide) to do will have great and lingering consequences on the family business and the family. The granddaughter so badly wants to salvage and grow the family business, while her Dad doesn’t want to deal with any of it. Her brother wants her to stay out, and her grandfather is afraid to ‘rock the boat.’ Such complexities are difficult. It is not natural to manage such complexity, alone, as a family. The situation and dynamics have become too convoluted, with too many competing agendas and distrusting postures.
Consider for a moment, a garden. You could say its natural order is weeds and out of control growth, with plants competing for the light. The return of the garden to its former cultivated state can’t be done on its own. Someone must come in and give it the care, attention and maintenance it needs to keep it thriving. Families, when they want to thrive beyond a couple of generations and currently feel adversarial, need care and nurturing to reestablish the family homeostasis. Family dynamics are as important to deal with, BEFORE unintended consequences like family branches breaking away in disgust or when public battles flare.
This is when an experienced family facilitator can become a very important ally to this family and their business. With theirability to ask the right questions, coupled with empathy, neutrality, and knowledge of how to hold conversations on critical or volatile subjects, a change can occur. The facilitator’s role is to ask questions meant to reveal, not invade, discover what really matters to the family, not judge. Their role is to help the family hear each other so the family can make informed and consensual decisions on their future.
For this family, it’s time to make a move.