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What to Do When Family is Fighting at Work


The first thing to remember is that all companies act like families whether or not the people working together are related.

Someone is playing the role of Dad, Mom, Big Brother, and probably the Big Sister.

And very commonly in the home service business and contracting world, our businesses tend to be multi-generational, so it could be quite literally a family business acting this way.

Here’s the thing… what do you do when people are not getting along? In other words, how do you clear the air, and how do you keep it from escalating or spreading like wildfire throughout the company?

Here are 10 great tips from my own business career working with my dad and two older brothers and from helping clients who are and are not related with these very real issues that can destroy the company if not addressed quickly and in the right way:

  1. Have an Organizational Chart. It defines, in writing, the boxes it takes to run your company today. Do try to keep it flat and skip the fancy titles if at all doable. The reason is nature abhors a vacuum. And if it’s not defined as to what boxes it takes to run your company, that’s a problem because either everyone rushes to fill that box or nobody does and, either way, you are adding gasoline to a fire. Also, Org Charts minimize micromanaging one another which helps to minimize fighting.
  2. Define in writing what goes on in each of those boxes. It’s really the 80% of what goes on day-to-day. Otherwise, the door is wide open for second guessing how the box is being occupied because subjective opinion is in play vs. objectivity which is based on things like a companion Operating Manual for that box.
  3. Have a Depth Chart. That is the companion for the Org Chart. Simply stated, it means who is 1st string, 2nd string and 3rd string for occupying those boxes on the Org Chart. This way they can be cross-trained to cover should someone gets hurt, sick, promoted, is on vacation, or worse yet… DIES!
  4. Have a succession plan in place. This way employees and especially family members know how a smooth transition from the existing people in charge will go to the next in line which makes infighting less likely.
  5. Somebody has to have the final call. That means the General Manager or the Owner within a group of Owners gets the final call on matters of who stays and who goes if it gets down to this. It’s necessary to have this reflected in the Org Chart and Depth Chart. Like driving a car….there can only be one set of hands on the wheel steering or you’re going to crash.
  6. Pay people to stay home if you must. This scenario presents itself especially when there are nonfunctioning family members you can’t fire or buyout, but they need to stay home to avoid open warfare in front of the team. I’ve seen this scenario play out in big companies where they’ve been around a long while and there are too many people with a blood line to the family business, but they have neither the skill, desire, or inclination to be at work and help. They are actually like a cancer on the company if not dealt with and dealt with quickly. Sometimes, it just pays to buy them out or pay them something to stay home. It’s like being in a boat. You should either help row in the same direction, not row at all, but certainly you can’t row in the other direction.
  7. Focus on growing the business. This is so there is more to share with the team and less a feeling that they have to fight over scraps. Growth done right gives more people on the team a place to go and grow personally and feel less threatened by others so less fighting takes place.
  8. Define in writing the key performance metrics. This is also known as key indicators for each box on the Org Chart so once again you can objectively determine if someone is doing a good job in the box or boxes they occupy and whether or not they’ve earned the right to go to the next higher box. If you don’t have this, they are left to wonder as to how can they move ahead, and that’s bad for them and really bad for you. My friend and fellow great mentor, Ellen Rohr, shared with me this thought: “Give your team a really great game to play or they’ll find their own, and you won’t like it.”
  9. Have an arbitration process in place. If matters escalate and it’s becoming a distraction to the company, you want to have in place a way to disarm the conflict better and faster. Many times, a 3rd party arbitrator can provide this objectivity and structure.
  10. Have a buy-sell in place. If all else fails, have the exit plan. A good Buy-Sell is constructed with the help of your attorney and the accounting team working together so they can create NO legal or tax issue that might happen if they were working alone. One big thing is to have it tied to something objective and the party looking to leave needs to leave in a timely manner and at a price that doesn’t strap the remaining ownership. There are things like Key Man Insurance to consider and a whole lot more, so professional help with this is not a luxury – it’s a necessity.

Do this proactively and minimize the spark or unrest from becoming the wildfire that can burn down the whole business.

Al Levi teaches contractors how to run their businesses with less stress and more success through his book, seminars, webinars and his exclusive 1-to-1 consulting practice.

 Also check out Al’s latest business adventure as part of Zoom Franchise Company at www.zoomdrain.com/franchise-opportunity. It’s a living example of the power of manuals and more— in action.

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