Any small business’s success depends on its decision makers’ ability to work together for the good of the company. That can be hard for family businesses, especially where sibling rivalry pushes key employees apart.

Sibling Rivalry May Have Nothing to Do with Doing Business

Sibling rivalry can conjure images of pulled hair, wrestling matches, and shouting matches between children. When sibling rivalry continues into adulthood, especially where those siblings work together in the family business, it can threaten productivity, turn employees against one another, and threaten the company’s bottom line.

If you are constantly playing referee between feuding siblings in your family business, the problem may have nothing to do with the business. Often conflict patterns learned early in life can follow you into your family business, making the already difficult job of running a business even harder.

How CEO Parents Contribute to Sibling Rivalry at Work

Sometimes the conflict at the heart of sibling rivalry isn’t between brothers and sisters at all. When children grow up in a family with an entrepreneurial parent, they may learn competition is the best way to get their mother’s or father’s attention. The high demand on a CEO parent’s time, can pit siblings against one another as they compete for their parent’s attention and affection.

This same unspoken competition can continue into the family business. If, for example, the competitive siblings are each assigned a team, they may push their employees to outperform one another in a drive to impress their parent and receive the emotional award for that accomplishment. This kind of affection-based competition is sometimes called “emotional rivalry.” It is based on the personalities of the managing family members, and their emotional and relational maturity.

Strategic Rivalry Between Siblings

However, not every business dispute in a family business can be explained emotionally. Strategic rivalry has more to do with the siblings’ leadership management styles, than their history within the family. Siblings may have different strategic visions for the company as a whole or their own role within the corporate structure.

These strategic disagreements should be resolved professionally, rather than personally. While you can’t ignore the ongoing relationships between family members, resolving strategic disputes should be done the same way in family businesses as other small businesses – through strategic planning and adhering to the company’s existing business plan.

Strategies to Diffuse Sibling Rivalry in Your Family Business

If emotional sibling rivalry is threatening your family business, it is best to take proactive steps to guide siblings toward a more mature relationship with each other, and their parents. This may include:

Developing Outside Experience

In some cases, younger generations in the family business have never worked for anyone else. This can affect their professionalism and their expectations for how business works. By developing outside experience – through a second job, internship, or volunteer opportunity – these family members gain exposure to other business techniques and disentangle personal and professional relationships.

Strengths Analysis and Redistribution of Responsibilities

When siblings become frustrated and competitive, it may be because they have been assigned tasks that they are not well suited to. A business consultant can provide an outside perspective on the strengths and opportunities for growth among your family’s management team. Then that team can work together to redistribute their responsibilities and train, hire, or promote employees with complementary skillsets so that everyone is able to focus on what they do best.

Individualized Executive Coaching

In many cases, that training includes developing your family members’ own skill sets. Especially where a business makes up most of the family’s inheritance, keeping ownership and control within the family is important. In these cases, individualized executive coaching can help siblings and other family members overcome their interpersonal differences and develop strategies to move the family business forward.

Resolving disputes within a family business can be difficult. The interplay of family dynamics with business strategies can put siblings and family members at odds. But sibling rivalry doesn’t have to pull your family business apart. By identifying and addressing the emotional needs behind the disputes, you can help brothers and sisters develop into better leaders for your business.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping family businesses with interpersonal conflict. Through one-on-one executive coaching, strategy sessions, and facilitated mediation, David helps family members work together to make their family businesses grow. Contact us to meet with David to start resolving sibling rivalry in your workplace today.