Sibling Partnerships: If you are a part of a sibling partnership in business or anticipate being in one in the near future, please understand that your relationship, just like any other relationship, will require a significant amount of effort to make it an effective one. Effective sibling partnerships will not happen by default. Natural behavior is to be competitive, self promoting and self serving. It takes a purposeful, dedicated effort to achieve win/win with siblings and there are many factors that lead to the effectiveness of sibling partnerships. Here are ten fundamental suggestions as to how you can establish and sustain an effective working relationship with one or more siblings:


  1. Make a personal decision to rise above sibling rivalry by recognizing that you are no longer competing for your parent’s approval. You are now in business together fighting for the success of your business. If you divert your energies from this focal point you will bear part of the cost. You should now be more interested in earning your sibling’s approval, not your parent’s. If the disconnect with your sibling runs deep, admit it, and seek professional help together.

  2. Engage in Family Strategic Planning to establish a “shared vision” of your future together. The process of building a shared vision will either reinforce your relationship or highlight the areas in which you need professional help. A shared vision or dream that you are both pursuing will provide a foundation for individual accountability that will assist you through difficult times.

  3. Agree upon a Leadership Model. It doesn’t matter whether you take the more traditional route of one sibling being the leader, or the more contemporary co-CEO approach, as long as you have agreed upon the basic model and how it will work. It should be understood that the co-CEO approach is more complex due to the ongoing opportunity of unreasonable assumptions.

  4. Create behavior and attitude Covenants that will confirm how you will interact with one another, how you will communicate, make decisions together, resolve conflict, hold each other accountable, support one another with respect to the senior managers and employees, etc. Then, regularly review these agreements because mistakes are predictable but success is achievable with continual reaffirmation of your commitment.

  5. Establish a Supporting Outside Board. If necessary, agree to have outside independent advisors to facilitate debate and provide a resolution to deadlock that is not perceived as win loose. Siblings who perceived they have lost a power play rarely forget and generally spend too much time on getting even.

  6. Develop a comprehensive Family Business Employment Policy. Don’t allow nephews and nieces to just come to work in the family’s business. Make sure family members understand that working in the family’s business is special because all family members are in the spot light and they are role models for good or bad attitudes and behavior.

  7. Document all agreements regarding compensation, responsibilities, stock transfer capability and the disposition of stock in the event of death, disability or retirement.  Assumptions regarding these important contingencies are opportunities for a crisis within a family. Addressing the contingencies is work but having documented agreements is a giant step towards avoiding disagreements.

  8. Acknowledge that you can agree to disagree. An expectation that siblings are going to agree on everything is pure fantasy. How you handle your disagreements will in large part determine the success of your partnership. Disagreement is OK as long as there is an understanding that some one is responsible for the final decision.

  9. Address the impact of spouses on harmony and teamwork. Far too many sibling issues are really an in-law issue. If an in-law is back stage pulling the strings, you had better address the involvement of the in-law or just reconcile yourself to having ever increasing dysfunction.  

  10. Agree upon an Exit Strategy. Due to differences in age, motivation and health, one sibling will retire or want to retire prior to the other(s). However, concerns about maintaining lifestyle, relinquishing control or leaving underperforming children unprotected can greatly complicate the retirement. An agreed upon exit strategy for siblings can alleviate many of these concerns.

Approximately fifty percent if the family businesses involve siblings. If you, your children, your partners or your bosses are in the beginning stages of a sibling partnership, give thought to these suggestions or suggest that they do so. Putting these Best Practices in motion will serve to provide you with a firm foundation for future growth of the partnership and the business. If you have been in a sibling partnership that has gone awry realize that it’s never too late to pull it together. It will require coming out of your comfort zone, but with resolve and determination you can forge unity and maybe even harmony. You may need the services of an outside facilitator to help you work through the issues but just like your marriage, it is worth the investment.  In the end, remember that it takes commitment to make family an asset in business. Family can be an asset by bearing up under the load and supporting each other through difficult times.

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