All posts by Kent B. Rhodes, Ed.D.

Predictable Conflicts

Kent Rhodes

I recently wrote about the fact that many conflicts in family businesses are predictable, but not inevitable. Helping families recognize those more predictable conflicts and the processes that typically lead up to them can provide insight to family business leaders. Learning how to spot those more common difficulties is the first step to better managing them before they become entrenched and damage family relationships and impact the business.

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Are Your Conflicts “System Related”?

Kent Rhodes

One of the best ways to identify whether or not a family conflict is more of a “process” type of conflict is when it recurs over extended periods of time. I don’t mean the serial kind of conflicts that may naturally occur among a sibling team due to day to day differing points of view, but the kind that seem to be the same exact issue that raises its head from time to time or never ever goes away.

Learning to think about family businesses and conflicts as a part of the “system” becomes an important approach. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge refers to systems thinking as a way to approach recurring problems by going beyond reacting to what, on the surface, looks simply like repeated single events. Instead, he suggests looking at root causes of those repeated events in relation to the larger system or in this case, the family’s business.

Even though his advice may seem obvious, sometimes taking some time to think about what kinds of circumstances in a family business may be causing conflict is a good place to start in getting a better handle on it and managing it more effectively.

I’m curious what kinds of “system” related conflicts you have seen?

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Conflict in the Family Business

Kent Rhodes

According to experts in field of conflict management, conflict is “a process that begins when an individual or group perceives differences and opposition between itself and another individual or group about interests and resources, beliefs, values or practices that matter to them”[1]. The bottom line is that true conflicts in family businesses tend to be processes rather than one-time events. Typically owners and managers tackle smaller challenges, managing them effectively in real time. But when one-time events, whether in the family or the business are ignored, they can become chronic, stack up over time, and potentially become a crises point for both the family and the business. This is particularly true when those events are rooted in common, long-playing family dynamics – sometimes across generations. Families that learn to effectively manage these kinds of conflicts do so to specifically maintain relationships in ways that benefit of both extended family and the business. 

For mor information on conflict in the family business join our webinar program on Wednesday September 21, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
Click here to register for the program. 


[1] De Dreu, Harinck, & Van Vianen, (1999). Conflict and performance in groups and organizations. In Cooper & Robertson (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (Vol 14, pp. 369-414). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

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Managing Conflicts

Kent Rhodes

With recent events in Egypt filling our television screens, I am reminded how conflict, when managed well, has the potential to propel a group of people toward bigger and better things – whether that group represents a country, a business or a family. But conflict within organizations is a routine part of corporate life. While it may vary in intensity, depth and stability, how leaders manage those conflicts can make a difference.

In Egypt’s case, there is potential for their conflict to usher in a new age of deeper democracy. But if conflict is mismanaged or allowed to languish, it can also wreak havoc in a way that leaves members of a group in a spot they may not have intended for themselves. This is especially true for Family Businesses because the emotional ties of family members with each other and with the history of the company create a potentially intense environment. Normally this juncture is one of the main ingredients that make a Family Business such a successful and special place of business, benefiting family, community and even country. But that same intense environment – with the addition of mismanaged conflict – can also produce results that no one really wants.

In Egypt’s case, it appears that much energy has gone toward maintaining a culture of “not rocking the boat” or “honoring leaders” for a very long time. In Family Businesses, conflicts that are ignored or mismanaged, even for seemingly good reasons, might also be deflecting energy away from solving root problems or issues. The real dilemma comes when the practice of ignoring or mismanaging conflict starts creating chronic challenges that undermine trust, dampen innovation and produce disengagement. In a Family Business the repercussion of these challenges have significant consequences for both business and family.

Anticipating and strategizing ways that conflict can be managed in a way that converges energy toward solving a problem or challenge is more likely to provide a healthy benefit to the organization and individuals working together to address it

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Sibling Revelry

Kent Rhodes

“Siblings bring a unique dynamic to family businesses. The sibling relationship, arguably the longest of life’s relationships, add some of the most rewarding – and some of the most complex –  aspects to life in and outside the business. It is not unusual for these complex aspects to become magnified when operating and growing a business handed to them by founding parents.

This process comes with tremendous challenges for siblings to fill the shoes of a founder while simultaneously figuring out how to move from a single leader model to working as a leadership team. Questions like who is equipped to lead, what kind of leadership/management configuration will be employed, who will serve on a board, and who will be simply “proud owners’, are just a few of complex issues that a sibling team will address.

One question that will be addressed in an upcoming Webinar, May 18 is how can siblings prepare themselves to be effective leaders of the family business? Besides completing degrees in appropriate management or leadership fields, siblings can also position themselves for success  in many important ways by working explicitly on their partnership, for example, by committing to weekly or monthly owner’s check-in meetings to talk about the business in terms of the family’s interaction with it and with each other. This meeting should be in addition to any “official” board meeting or executive management meeting and can improve communication while staving off some of the challenges that come with sibling teams.” 

For additional information or to register for the May 18 webinar click here.

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“Workplace Spirituality” in Family Firms

Kent Rhodes

One of the hallmarks of workplace spirituality, particularly in family owned businesses, is commitment to the development of people. Many businesses have begun to realize the benefits of treating a person as a whole rather than as an employee by actively supporting their professional and personal development that promotes personal growth and long-term character development. This is particularly evident in successful family businesses that understand the link between employee personal growth and learning with job performance, satisfaction and retention. This emphasis includes providing resources that help employees better understand themselves, develop successful professional and personal relationships, and enhance personal management skills. In family firms, developing people is usually a natural outcome of extending the family feel of the place to employees beyond blood relatives. Long time non-family managers are treated more like siblings, sons, and daughters that bring a love and commitment to the founding family that tends to extend throughout the organization.

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Workplace Spirituality

Kent Rhodes

Workplace spirituality has continued to gain acceptance as a topic of study in B-schools across the country, presumably with application to practice within organizations. Though it may have been initially viewed as a passing fad, it now seems to have reached trend status that is distinct from religious connotation. In fact, even management textbooks routinely include sections about “workplace spirituality” and professional organizations like the Academy of Management offer membership in special interest groups emphasizing spirituality.

So, while any number of families associated with successful businesses may also be associated with a strong community of faith, if one of the many emerging definitions of workplace spirituality is looked at in the context of a family business, it starts to become clear why businesses with family at their cores also tend to be naturally spiritual workplaces.

Here’s a recent list of hallmarks of spiritual workplaces. Over the next week, I’ll be writing more about the three that seem to most show up in family businesses. I welcome your comments. The hallmarks are: Emphasizes Sustainability, Values Contribution, Regards Innovation, Cultivates Inclusion, Develops People, Promotes Vocation.

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What Family Businesses Learn From the Conflict in Egypt

Kent Rhodes

With recent events in Egypt filling our television screens, I am reminded how conflict, when managed well, has the potential to propel a group of people toward bigger and better things – whether that group represents a country, a business or a family. But conflict within organizations is a routine part of corporate life. While it may vary in intensity, depth and stability, how leaders manage those conflicts can make a difference. 

In Egypt’s case, there is potential for their conflict to usher in a new age of deeper democracy. But if conflict is mismanaged or allowed to languish, it can also wreak havoc in a way that leaves members of a group in a spot they may not have intended for themselves. This is especially true for Family Businesses because the emotional ties of family members with each other and with the history of the company create a potentially intense environment. Normally this juncture is one of the main ingredients that make a Family Business such a successful and special place of business, benefiting family, community and even country. But that same intense environment – with the addition of mismanaged conflict – can also produce results that no one really wants.

In Egypt’s case, it appears that much energy has gone toward maintaining a culture of “not rocking the boat” or “honoring leaders” for a very long time. In Family Businesses, conflicts that are ignored or mismanaged, even for seemingly good reasons, might also be deflecting energy away from solving root problems or issues. The real dilemma comes when the practice of ignoring or mismanaging conflict starts creating chronic challenges that undermine trust, dampen innovation and produce disengagement. In a Family Business the repercussion of these challenges have significant consequences for both business and family.

Anticipating and strategizing ways that conflict can be managed in a way that converges energy toward solving a problem or challenge is more likely to provide a healthy benefit to the organization and individuals working together to address it.

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Managing Disagreements: Do You Have A Policy?

Kent Rhodes

One of our good collaborating friends with FBCG is a marvelous woman named Joline Godfrey whose company is called Independent Means (independentmeans.com). She is top in her field in educating families around wealth management, particularly as it relates to younger generations. She is also famous for saying, “Almost all families have the best of intentions, but few families are intentional”. I find myself quoting Jolene a lot, but usually in the context of how families tend to manage (or mismanage) conflicts or disagreements.

For good or ill, most families have developed specific pathways of engaging or ignoring difficulties and in families that also own and/or operate businesses, these pathways can have major impacts on the companies themselves. One family might thrive on open arguments about how the business should be run while others maintain a veneer of peace and unity while problems are ignored until they become a crises. I find that families who expend energy to intentionally and specifically agree to specific processes and policies for managing disagreements, are ones that also tend to better protect the business from potential family splits and bring a stronger sense of continuity to the family that can be handed down to future generations.

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