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working with friends and family
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Updated 29 January 2024

Working with friends and family: a nice opportunity (that needs to be managed)

Being able to run a successful business working side by side with family members or friends who share the same desires and vision as you is a nice possibility, but it is very important to be able to manage well the many dynamics that are created in this particular scenario.

Knowing thoroughly and being able to trust those around you in the day-to-day running of your business is a great advantage, but you must keep well in mind that the possibility of misunderstandings and disagreements emerging is by no means remote and that the consequences can also be very serious, professionally and personally.

Those just mentioned, however, are just some of the “pros” and cons” associated with the entrepreneurial choice of working with family or friends. Before embarking on such an adventure, you need to know thoroughly all the advantages you can benefit from and the disadvantages you need to keep well away from. Not only that, it is also necessary for you to know all the appropriate steps to be taken to work with relatives or friends and ensure success.


Working with family: pros and cons

Some of the benefits of working with family have already been mentioned: being able to trust 100 percent of those who work alongside you helps to make the work environment more peaceful. Working with family members (or friends) also helps foster a spirit of cooperation and ensures that everyone is more willing to make sacrifices.

Working with a family also has another practical advantage: by already knowing each other, the whole long and complex process of evaluating profiles and selecting potential employees for the company is dispensed with.

As the saying goes, however, not all that glitters is gold, and this case is certainly no exception: working in a family does, in fact, also have disadvantages, which threaten to undermine the chances of business success.

The ample guarantees offered by working within the family in terms of the trust placed in the other could risk translating into overconfidence and thus lead to a lowering of the “guard”. Not only that, the fact of being able to rely on the kinship link could push someone to make less, with the “certainty” in their pocket that they will not be reprimanded by top management or even fired.

In case you decide to work with family or friends, pay special attention to the sensitive issue of meritocracy: being able to separate competence from kinship ties and behave accordingly is not always easy. That’s not all: in a family-run business it is likely that top positions within the company are assigned to family representatives, and this can be a problem in terms of growth and innovation, because contributions from outside resources are inevitably limited in this way.

Last, but certainly not least, in the list of problems of working in a family is the issue related to possible disputes that may arise at work: remember well, in this regard, that working in a family means that every professional discussion also becomes a personal and family problem, capable of undermining the serenity of the group and the very fate of the business project. Hanging out even outside of working hours can also be a double-edged sword: failing to unplug and continuing to discuss possible problems at work almost H24 risks fueling tensions out of all proportion.

You now have at your disposal a broad overview of the advantages and disadvantages of working with a family, but that’s not enough: you also need to know what you can do concretely to be successful working with family (or friends).


Establishing roles and rules

The first important move is to agree on the roles that each person will play within the company, describe the specific duties of each person, and set the rules that everyone (without exception) must follow. It is essential to take great care at this particular stage, because being clear from the beginning will prevent you from misunderstandings and friction in the future.

Getting everyone to agree is no easy feat, but to meet this challenge keep in mind the words of John Quincy Adams:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.

It is necessary, at this point, to get even more to the heart of the matter: in order to identify the roles assigned to each member of the company, you must analyze with proper objectivity the strengths of each one, the specific skills and the added value he or she can bring to the company. To be able to maintain the right objectivity, of course, you need to approach this step without considering kinship or friendship: your reflection, in fact, must concern only the skills and attitude of those around you.


Creating formal processes

To avoid all sorts of misunderstandings and friction, it is also very important to work out more practical details, such as vacation and expense reimbursement. Consulting with members of the company and agreeing with them on practical business management guidelines is a good way to make sure that bad feelings do not arise on these very sensitive issues. It is also crucial to define in advance and put in black and white how you intend to handle possible disputes: what happens if two people ask for leave the same time? Knowing the company’s modus operandi beforehand will prevent internal frictions from arising.


Setting goals

Reasoning together about business goals and the strategies that need to be put in place to achieve them strengthens the team. When working as a family or together with friends, the belief may arise that we all think the same way about every aspect of the business, but in reality it is very important to listen to every point of view and to be able to settle any possible divergence in the name of a more valuable asset: the goals to be achieved (which, it is good to remember, should be set together).


Managing problems and possible conflicts

Even in the best families or the closest groups of friends, problems and conflicts can arise, especially when work is involved. More than preventing issues from arising, then, it becomes important to know how best to handle them. The secret lies in having good communication: even and especially in this case, it is essential to be able to listen to all points of view but also put aside feelings, treating relatives and friends as if they were “mere” employees. Not only that: a very useful tip for those who want to work with family or friends is to provide in advance a standard procedure to be followed in case conflicts arise that are considered serious.

Nicola Zanetti

Founder B-PlanNow® | Startup mentor | Startup consulting & marketing strategist | Leading startup to scaleup | Private angel investor | Ecommerce Manager | Professional trainer | Book writer

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