You may not think of college basketball as a family business, but in a few rare cases it can be viewed through that lens. Take the McDermotts from Iowa. The father, Greg, is the head coach of the Creighton University men’s basketball team, and his son, Doug, is not only the team’s star player, but he is also considered to be one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. The Creighton team spent this entire season as one of the top ranked teams in the country, in large part because of Greg and Doug’s ability to work together effectively.
For those who are interested in learning more about Doug’s phenomenal career, there is an enlightening article in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated magazine. One of the passages from this article that stood out to me was the sentence that identified the key to their success:
“[Greg] and Doug have determined that the father-coaching-son arrangement can work only if family time and basketball time are separate.”
As you might imagine, it can get confusing at times for Greg and Doug because they not only have a father-son relationship – they also have one that is coach-player. And just as the different roles each plays in relation to the other can lead to confusion about priorities, goals, and ultimately cause communication to be difficult, so, too, can the presence of multiple roles lead to confusion within family businesses. While you may naturally think of yourself first as “Dad” or “Mom,” you must remember that others may also see you as “Chairman,” “Boss,” and/or “Majority Shareholder.”
Like the McDermotts, members of family businesses would be wise to be explicitly clear about the multiple roles that are played, even if it means occasionally creating separate time for each. Maybe this college basketball tournament isn’t “Madness” after all.
What are your experiences with multiple roles in your family business? How have you managed to minimize the confusion that can often come with these multiple roles?
A common challenge for family members in business together is communication. How well family members are communicating impacts the family’s ability to work together effectively, a capability that is foundational to healthy families and healthy businesses.
One key to effective communication by leaders is being thoughtful and deliberate about WHO Knows WHAT and WHEN (WKWW). Information and its flow is a powerful influence within families and businesses, and WKWW sends signals as to one’s standing.
If family or business leadership conveys important information to one or more persons at the exclusion of others of supposed ‘equal standing’, this can signal that some have favored status. This will likely lead to anger, hurt feelings and an erosion of trust among those who feel they were slighted by not receiving the information. Further, those who received information may start to believe they are ‘special’ and entitled to different access – making it difficult to adjust to any requests to change the flow of information going forward without escalating resentments in the system.
A few thoughts on how to reduce the risk of these problems. First consider whether the information to be communicated is primarily a family matter, a business matter, or an ownership matter. Then communicate within the proper venue – family matters at family meetings, business matters at management meetings, and ownership matters at board or ownership council meetings. That way the right people will more likely received the right information at the right time.
The second thought is role clarity. For very good reasons some family members or management team members should know certain important information exclusively or before others in the family or on the management team. Having clearly defined roles within family and business governance will help set appropriate expectations as to the flow of information.
Finally, for important information that needs to be communicated, think through and visualize: the appropriate venue, the best person to convey the information, the sequence and the timing. Consider who will be most impacted by the information and the magnitude of any changes that will come along once the information is conveyed. Taking the time to visualize the roll out of the information will increase the odds that you will get the roll out right.
WHO Knows WHAT and WHEN? Getting this right will help your family and business go a long way to not hurting others feelings, an important part of working together effectively.
I was asked the other day what I thought were the qualities of a healthy family….
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
– Leo Tolstoy.
“I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”
– US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
Defining a healthy family is a little like Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity: Hard to define, but you know one when you see one.
– David Lansky
That being said, there are a few consistent qualities that seem to characterize what we call healthy families:
LOVE: Love, appreciation and positive regard are expressed by family members toward each other.
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Family communication is clear, open and frequent.
ENCOURAGEMENT: Mutual support, recognition, and respect are given by family to family.
COMMITMENT: One observes a sense of family identity and unity, and sacrifices are made to preserve family well being.
FLEXIBILITY: The family demonstrates an ability to adapt to change, as change inevitably occurs.
SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS: The family values friends, extended family, neighbors and community.
CLEAR ROLE DEFINITION: There is a role for everyone and everyone has a role in achieving the common good.
AFFINITY: They like being together.
And from my colleague Craig Aronoff, with whom I discussed these points, one last quality…
COMMON GOOD: a shared sense of common good, common goals and collective well being.
If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say:
A healthy family promotes the well being of each individual family member by creating a sense of loving belongingness, by enabling access to resources both within and without the family, by adapting to changing circumstances, and by encouraging open and honest communication amongst its members.