Many small family businesses operate on tight margins and rely on relatives for everything from manufacturing to sales. In these cases, family drama or conflict can quickly derail the company’s efforts and threaten the bottom line, not to mention the family dinner. If your household depends on your family business running smoothly, you need to take steps now to keep family drama out of the workplace.

Make Hiring and Promotion Decisions Based on Objective Assessments, Not Relationships

If you want to keep family drama out of the workplace, you need to treat your family business more like a company than a family. Family businesses often run fast and loose, with the matriarch or patriarch doling out responsibilities as the needs arise. But in this case, mother doesn’t always know best. Family members can often be blind to their loved one’s strengths and challenges. This can lead to assignments that are unduly stressful and projects that are likely to fail.

Consider hiring a business consultant to meet with key players in your family business – whether that means managers or next of kin – and objectively assess their leadership and management abilities. That way, when it is time to assign the next project, or fill a vacancy in the workplace, you’ll know who on the family tree has the skillset to get the job done. You’ll be able to avoid family drama because your decisions will be based on an objective metric, rather than perceived favoritism or family history.

Be Clear About Family Business Succession Planning

Family business succession planning often has a similar wait-and-see mentality. However, this can create family drama when relatives make assumptions about future leadership within the company. The best way to avoid this conflict is to be proactive, transparent, and strategic with your plan for family business inheritance. By having open conversations with key members of your business – both relatives and non-relatives – early on, you can ease the transition and avoid any unhappy surprises causing family drama at work.

Tell Feuding Family Members to “Take it Outside” the Office

Sometimes the family drama has nothing to do with what’s happening at work. Divorces, pregnancies, sibling rivalry, and a variety of other personal struggles can make their way into the family business and cause problems for the company’s bottom line.

Encourage coworkers to focus on work at work and family at home. If there is family drama that needs resolution, make time outside of normal business hours to listen to everyone involved and try to resolve their differences. If necessary, adjust shift assignments or team structures to give feuding relatives space. Where there are legal aspects – such as a divorce triggering a buyout provision in the company’s partnership agreement – deal with those matters through the business’s attorney rather than confronting them yourself.

Work Through Family Drama with a Neutral Facilitator

Even with all the best intentions, sometimes family drama will make its way into the family business. Relatives who are at odds will have trouble working with each other, and that can impact your company’s productivity. In these cases, you should encourage your family members to resolve the conflict and get your business team back on good terms.

One way to do this is with a neutral facilitator. This could be a non-relative coworker or a business consultant. The facilitator will listen to each person and help them communicate their concerns. Then the facilitator can guide them toward resolution.

Take Time Off Together

One of the best ways to keep family drama outside the family business is to give yourself and your loved ones time to play together. Positive experiences can help diffuse the tensions that happen when family members work and live together every day by giving everyone a chance to have fun, relax, and enjoy one another’s company.

Resolving conflict when you work with relatives takes a balance of business savvy and emotional intelligence. But you don’t have to do it alone. A business consultant can help you through every step of the process of separating family drama from the family business.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping family businesses with internal conflict. Through executive coaching, strategic planning, and facilitated mediation, David helps family businesses grow. Contact us to meet with David to start resolving conflict in your workplace today.