7 Tips for Running a Business with a Family Member

Many people cannot imagine working or partnering with a family member. The idea of negotiating and communicating with familial ties each day is simply too stressful for some. However, many businesses around the world contain married couples, siblings or other familial relationships.

Especially in a world full of startups, in which entrepreneurs want to hire someone they can trust, people opt to work with family members. That’s not to say it’s easy, however.

At The Intern Group, we have familial ties around the globe. Two partners run the London and Ireland programs, and a married couple runs the North American programs. After working together for so long, these employees have advice on how to work with family, without driving each other crazy.

Based on their experiences, here are seven tips for staying sane while working with a partner.

Tip #1: Don’t wait to address stresses

“Working together means that work pressures and life/relationship pressures can become mixed and during peak periods of stress, it can become tough,” Lee Carlin, who co-runs the London and Ireland offices, said.

Co-workers who let stress build without addressing it can explode; but, for family members, this stress can bleed into home life and become even worse. Address stressful situations head-on and try to work through them quickly. The stress will compile and create chaos in business and personal spheres, so if something is bothering you, talk about it in real-time rather than waiting.

It’s especially important to address work stresses at work; don’t bring them home. Instead of waiting to talk to your partner in the comfort of home, resolve the issue in the office.

Related: 12 Keys to Family Business Success

Tip #2: Put responsibilities in writing

Each person has his or her own responsibilities, but to avoid problems, put them in writing. That way, if a conflict arises, both parties can go back to documentation to solve it. Though “it’s family,” and there is another level of trust there, document all agreements and contract specifications to protect all parties. Setting clear responsibilities and roles, as well as clear boundaries, will help clarify and end disagreements that could get out of hand otherwise.

Tip #3: Take out the emotion

“It was definitely a challenge at first because we’d never worked together and had no idea how to separate work and life. In the end, though, it gave us more flexibility rather than less, and we were able to find a balance that meant we enjoyed working together to solve problems to build the U.S. business,” Andy Dillow, who co-runs our U.S. offices, said.

Everyone needs to remain clear-headed and reasonable in the workplace. The familial relationship makes it easy for disagreements to become emotional, but it’s important to avoid this. Emotional arguments escalate and become unprofessional very quickly. If you need to, take a five minute break. Then re-enter the conversation and remember that, for now, you are talking to a co-worker.

Tip #4: Be open with the team

Even if partners work in separate departments, don’t try to hide the existence of a family tie. The rest of your team might be uncomfortable finding out later. Being upfront also reduces gossiping in the office and managers can be open about not favoring their familial tie. Family working together is especially common in startups and new businesses. There is no reason to hide it, and you’re employees shouldn’t have to guess who’s related to whom.

Tip #5: Acknowledge strengths and weaknesses

Just like any other working relationship, it’s important to acknowledge one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Partners may be reluctant to accept a specific trait as a weakness, but it’s vital for the health of your new business to do so. After understanding your strengths and weaknesses in the workplace, partners or family members can make strategic decisions about responsibilities and roles. This is common practice when working with any other employee, but sometimes it can be hard to admit weaknesses to loved ones.

Tip #6: Keep goals clear

Workplace goals are great for transparency, and they’re especially excellent for creating a sound working relationship with family members. All actions in the workplace should be geared toward pre-established company goals.

“Working with my partner ensured that I had complete trust and loyalty in her. Plus, her belief in and commitment to the company meant she went above and beyond to meet and exceed our goals,” Carlin said.

Tip #7: Organize the work process

Along the lines of organizing responsibilities, creating a clear work process helps the team work better overall. Without set roles, you may end up blurring the lines of roles, and team members may not know who is supposed to do what.

Make it clear, for example, who approves ad copy and who runs team meetings. This process will help everyone work better together and avoid confusion for the rest of the team. Always keep roles separate. Couples and family members have separate salaries, which means they should play two distinct roles. Keep tasks organized and clear for employees regarding who does what.

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Not all family can work together

It’s also important to note that not all family members or couples can work together. Some individuals do not have the patience to work with someone they know on such a personal level. In that case, it’s OK to turn down a work opportunity because you know there is someone you cannot work with. And while it’s awkward if that someone is a relative, it’s understandable to say no.

Maintaining clear lines of communication and attempting to separate work-life from home-life are key, as well. Take time to shut off the work talk outside of the office, and use that time for family, instead of organizing tomorrow’s meeting. Using these tips, family members can start up together successfully.

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