Coaching in a Family Business

Coaching is generally a fairly straightforward business. Once the coach and coachee have found each other, some ground rules are set out, and then the coach asks some questions that are designed or structured to give the coachee the chance to look at aspects of their life and work – typically the troublesome areas or aspects that the coachee would like to change.

Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, but that’ll do for starters.

However, coaching will often reveal problems and issues centred around interpersonal relationships; a coachee might for example discover when being coached that the issues they thought were focussed on their own actions or inactions are in fact more about how they are treated by their line manager, or someone may discover that their issues are related to an unwillingness to delegate work effectively.

Every relationship has the potential to impact on the well-being of every party to that relationship, and those impacts can be positive or they can be negative.

Of course, that statement doesn’t just apply in the workplace. It’s true of every aspect of life.

So what happens when a family business runs into difficulties and seeks to resolve these difficulties through coaching?

What extra factors does the family dynamic add to the coaching?

First and foremost, a family has relationships that differ greatly from those that exist in a non-family working environment, and those relationships don’t go away when the members of the family work together, so the inter-personal dynamics in a family business are often extremely complex.

Secondly, there is the often divisive matter of succession: who inherits the business, and on what basis is that inheritance decided?

Then there are issues of rank and superiority within the firm. Is the oldest sibling necessarily the best for a particular role, for example, or should merit be the only decider, and if it is, how does the business deal with the potential fallout of someone feeling that they have ‘rights’ that aren’t being observed?

The coach in this situation must look for a route through all the complexities of the family dynamic as well as those of the business, and must at all times be aware of the possibilities for stirring up open conflict where animosity or resentment between family members spills over into the working environment.

Perhaps the solution lies in working with the coachee to firstly establish how the family unit works outwith the business, and only when that has been established satisfactorily, and there is an understanding of the roles and hierarchy of the family at home, does the coaching move on to the matter of work and business.

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