Many families who own family businesses have conflict embedded in their culture. Often it starts a generation or two before the current generation. Conflict gets passed down through the generations as part of the family legacy, just like grandma’s china or grandpa’s watch collection. This conflict is unresolvable because those who had the original conflict aren’t around to come to any resolution. My recommendation to families in this situation is to figure out how to get past it, rather than try to rehash old arguments.
The best way to move beyond the family conflict is to stop the conflict cycle. If the same two people always start an argument in family meetings, or the family always votes along branch lines, this situation where the destructive dynamic occurs needs to change. The main reason this is destructive is because the conflict will never get resolved since it didn’t originate with the people carrying out the argument.
Changing the environment doesn’t mean not allowing the individuals prone to arguments be in the same room together, but it does mean that the family can stop the set-up for the argument. Have the chair or someone else intervene in the cycle and act as mediator outside of the family meeting.
Ask yourself if this argument can be resolved without additional information. If it is a yes/no argument where the two individuals take opposite sides, then the likelihood of getting resolution without a great deal of work is very small. This is a great opportunity to institute a task force to research and add different perspectives to the content of the disagreement. To get to a resolution, the individuals need to get past looking at the conflict as a black or white.
Changing the environment also means avoiding big emotional upheavals in the fabric of the family. Families need to build a repeatable and consistent decision-making process. Without this consistency, the family will never be able to build trust or move past the conflict dynamic.
There is a compelling reason to get past the conflict. Without a constructive dynamic in the fabric of the family, the family can’t make progress in other significant areas. Conflict sucks the figurative air out of a room, and the family can’t address other important work like focusing on becoming a good partner with the business, increasing the stewardship capabilities of the family, preparing for inevitable transition, and building a deep bench of family director candidates and family leaders. Unresolved conflict is a guarantee for stasis.