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Bridging bonds: conflict resolution and mediation in family businesses
12 October 2023 | Minutes to read: 3

Bridging bonds: conflict resolution and mediation in family businesses

By Chris Leahy

Family businesses are often lauded for their resilience, values and continuity across generations. Yet, within these close-knit enterprises, conflicts can simmer beneath the surface, threatening to disrupt both family harmony and business prosperity. The ability to navigate and resolve these conflicts is where effective governance, conflict resolution and mediation are required. In this article, we’ll explore the pivotal role that conflict resolution and mediation play in preserving the legacy and success of family businesses.

The familial complexity

Family businesses uniquely blend personal relationships with professional responsibilities, creating a dynamic environment where conflicts can arise from a multitude of sources. These conflicts might stem from differences in management styles, compensation disparities, succession planning disagreements or even generational divides.

Unlike non-family businesses, where decisions are often made based purely on financial or operational considerations, family businesses must balance these factors with the preservation of familial bonds. This complexity requires a specialised approach to conflict resolution.

1. Proactive conflict resolution

In family businesses, proactive conflict resolution is the key to preventing minor disputes from escalating into major crises. This approach involves setting the stage for effective communication and addressing potential conflicts before they become entrenched.

  • Family councils: Family councils, a cornerstone of family business governance, provide a structured platform for discussing issues openly. They create an environment where family members can voice concerns, share perspectives and collaboratively find solutions.
  • Regular communication: Establishing regular family meetings can help keep the lines of communication open. These meetings provide opportunities to discuss concerns, share updates on the business and foster transparency.
  • External advisors: Engaging external advisors, such as business consultants or family business experts, can provide an impartial perspective and help mediate conflicts when needed. Their expertise in conflict resolution can guide discussions toward productive outcomes.

2. Conflict resolution mechanisms

Despite proactive efforts, conflicts may still arise. In such cases, family businesses should have well-defined conflict resolution mechanisms in place. These mechanisms offer a structured framework for addressing disputes, preserving relationships and minimising damage to the business.

  • Mediation: Mediation is a powerful tool for resolving conflicts within family businesses. A trained mediator, often an external professional with expertise in family business dynamics, can facilitate discussions and guide the parties toward mutually acceptable solutions. Mediation is non-adversarial and seeks to find common ground, making it an effective approach for preserving relationships.
  • Conflict resolution policies: Family businesses should develop conflict resolution policies outlining the steps and procedures for addressing disputes. These policies should be communicated to all family members and employees to ensure a consistent and fair approach.
  • Clear decision-making processes: Conflicts can often arise from ambiguity in decision-making processes. By establishing clear and transparent procedures for making important decisions, family businesses can minimise potential areas of conflict.

3. Balancing family and business interests

One of the core challenges in resolving conflicts within family businesses is striking a balance between the needs of the family and the demands of the business. Effective mediation and conflict resolution consider both sets of interests, ensuring that decisions serve the best interests of both the family and the company.

  • Professional mediators: External mediators are particularly valuable in maintaining this balance. They bring objectivity and expertise to the table, helping family members separate personal emotions from business decisions.
  • Preservation of relationships: Conflict resolution in family businesses should not be solely about ‘winning’ or ‘losing.’ It should prioritise preserving relationships, allowing family members to continue working together harmoniously, and maintaining a sense of unity within the family.
  • Long-term vision: Mediation should always consider the long-term vision and sustainability of the family business. Resolving conflicts in a way that aligns with the company’s strategic goals is crucial for its continued success.

Conflict resolution and mediation are not just tools for managing disputes in family businesses; they are essential for preserving the legacy and success of these enterprises. By proactively addressing conflicts, establishing clear conflict resolution mechanisms, and balancing family and business interests, family businesses can navigate challenges while maintaining their core values and cohesion.

In our next exploration of family businesses, we’ll delve into the importance of governance in maintaining harmony and sustainability across generations.

Please read our other articles in the series:

Article 1: Governance in family businesses: its critical role in nurturing success

Article 2: The family business advantage: nurturing legacy and success

Article 3: Building strong foundations: the pillars of governance in family businesses

Article 5: Passing the torch: navigating the generational shift in family businesses

For more information on how to implement good governance in your family business, contact your local William Buck business advisor.

Bridging bonds: conflict resolution and mediation in family businesses

Chris Leahy

Chris is a Director in our Business Advisory Division with over 16 years experience within the accounting and finance industry working with business owners. Chris has a unique blend of commercial and professional experience seeing him lead the financial functions of privately owned international companies across five continents as CFO and Statutory Director.

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