Often, people think of closeness and unity with a family as being solely about their social events. Do they get together when the work is done? Do they go out for drinks, hold celebratory dinners, take the kids on vacation together?
But cohesion isn’t all about social time. There are a lot of facets of cohesion that can strengthen a family and a family business. You have to deliver all of them to build a truly cohesive family.
In a large and complex family, the best way to build strong relationships and create unity is to consistently offer multiple ways of building relationships—through shared work, through social events, through volunteering together in the community, and so on. But the single most important tactic if you desire real cohesion is to give everyone some meaningful work to do together. It’s through that meaningful work that people will begin to build meaningful relationships. That will foster a willingness to do things together unrelated to business, like group dinners or attending a family camp.
When you provide a lot of different avenues to building cohesion, you create a beneficial cycle. To get this cycle started, agree on your shared values as a group. You cannot build cohesion unless you’re operating under the principles of inclusiveness and transparency. In the business, being transparent to your family increases trust, and that trust will build goodwill, and that goodwill will generate more opportunities to get together socially, and those positive social experiences build more willingness to participate in meaningful work. Consistently offering opportunities for people to connect and feel part of the group across many different settings helps bridge the differences between the individuals in the family.
Trying to build cohesion only by creating more social events, or by organizing big gatherings like family camps, you’re going to get the people who already feel cohesion—but not those who feel like outsiders or who don’t do well in certain types of social settings. You have to create opportunities for people to build trust and build relationships in many different settings.
Every time you go through that cycle you’re picking up more and more people. Different people will jump into the cycle in different steps. For example, there may be somebody who is really good with relationships, a social extrovert, and they’ll go to any party. They’ll jump into the positive cycle through social opportunities. They’ll get hooked in by talking with different people over hors d’oeuvres, and as a result they’ll be willing to join a committee to plan the next social event. Little by little, they’ll be drawn into doing meaningful work.
The best way to open people’s minds is transparency and inclusiveness in the business setting. Let’s say in the past the management hasn’t operated with a value of inclusiveness and transparency, and hasn’t had real discussions about the business with the family. If the management or family leaders start operating with a more inclusive model, you’re going to pull in those individuals who may not have had an innate trust in the family in the past. Those individuals will start building trust with the company over time, and may be willing to get pulled into meaningful work in the form of a task force to look at competencies for family directors.
Social events are great—as a way to reach the more socially outgoing family members, and as a way to broaden the relationships that began over the board room table or on a task force. But social events alone will not give you a cohesive family. For that, you need to open as many channels as possible for your family to come together in work and in play.