The American fascination with “teams” and “teambuilding” probably causes as much conflict and confusion as does consensus and convergence.  Much of what passes for learned thought in contemporary management literature espouses the need for “team” players who are willing to “take a bullet for the team.”  We want people to collaborate and play for the “win-win” scenario. 

The truth is we do not really want them to collaborate; most of us want them to accommodate (subordinate) their interests in favor of ours.  The differences between accommodation and collaboration are significant.  The leader of a business or a family who confuses these two methods of conflict resolution places trust at risk.  The leader’s motives will consistently be questioned, which means that his/her character, one of the two major components of trust, is also at risk.

Accommodation asks others to neglect their own concerns and interests to satisfy the needs and concerns of others.  In essence, we are asking people to set aside their personal interests and concerns for a higher and greater good.  

Unfortunately, that greater good often lacks the individual personal and financial incentives and rewards that justifies such a sacrifice.   In short, we don’t put our money where our mouth is; we do not change the reward system in ways that allow others to benefit financially or emotionally.  When that happens, we may have the power to force compliance with our wishes; but we probably will not get the commitment required to maximize the greater good.  We may get better performance, but we do not optimize or maximize performance, or return, or cooperation, or whatever it is that we are after.

Collaboration, on the other hand, identifies the needs and concerns of two or more individuals and looks for alternatives that meet both conditions.  From a practical standpoint  for a family business, that means that parents and children have clear communications (shared meaning, shared understanding) and role clarity regarding future expectations of personal involvement within the business or family.

In interviews, many entrepreneurs state they started a business to provide for their families, and there is probably only more than a small amount of truth in that statement.  As we get deeper into the interview, however, it becomes clear that the family security concern is not the whole truth.  Personal needs and concerns related to power, influence, recognition, legacy, and significance often are just as important, sometimes more so, than family security.  

As the legacy looms more imminent, some entrepreneurs believe that legacy must be carried out by family members.  Pressure mounts between parents and children.  Someone, often the child, gives in and what he/she wanted to do gets shelved.  

No one knows with certainty the social or personal cost of that accommodation, but we know there is one.  Just as there is often a family cost because someone felt forced to take the road marked out by “the folks”.  

If you currently find yourself at odds with a family successor, ask yourself whether you are asking them to accommodate your interests or whether you are trying to collaborate with theirs.  If you are not collaborating with them, there will be a price to pay.

 Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to stay informed on how to overcome related succession planning issues.