As I work with business owners pursuing succession, I am constantly amazed by the complex multifaceted nature of succession planning. Entangled in the diverse business and estate issues is the common thread of relationships. The quality of communication, cooperation, teamwork and trust between owners, managers, employees and family depend on relationships.

A relationship is the byproduct of interaction. Good relationships are based upon all parties receiving positive vibes from their interaction, which in turn, promotes greater interaction allowing a deeper connection. Conversely, bad relationships result from negative feelings regarding prior interaction, which in turn, discourages further contact. Good relating begets more relating; bad relating impedes or terminates more relating. 

To illustrate the idea of family relationships, imagine each of your relationships as a rope. Assuming strand material is the same, the strength of a rope depends upon the number of strands and how they are interwoven.  A rope of three parallel strands is not necessarily three times as strong as a single strand because each strand relies upon its independent strength. However, if you twist, wind, or weave those same but now interdependent strands, the rope is approximately nine times as strong as a single strand as they spread the load and gain strength. The more strands woven together, the stronger the rope. The strength of a relationship works the same way, the more interactions that occur, the more strands develop.  

For example, my consistent advice to business owners concerned about losing a key manager to a competitor is to expand their relationship. Don’t presume to really know someone with only having interacted on a business level. A strictly business relationship can only sustain a finite amount of stress. In contrast, a multi-dimensional relationship involving care and concern for business and personal interests can withstand what sometimes appears to be an infinite amount of stress.     

To carry the metaphor further, I see relationship issues as knots in the rope restricting flexibility and versatility. If not resolved, these knots can preclude collaboration and teamwork. A single strand of hemp, monofilament, or nylon that has been damaged can be stressed into a knot which cannot be untied without damaging the rope beyond repair. In contrast, a multi-strand rope provides the opportunity to untie the knot, due both to the thickness and the inherent space within the weave. From a prevention perspective, when relationships are supported by multiple levels of interaction, the rope is thicker and there is more resistance to knotting. So weave your family business relationship strands with the intention of avoiding, not resolving those knots.  

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