Chances are good that a long-lived family business will eventually be led by a sibling team. Despite sharing common values, siblings face real obstacles when cast in the top leadership spot. Sure, perceptions of parental favoritism and longstanding rivalries can make cooperation difficult. However, most second-generation sibling teams must somehow adapt a decision-making process dominated by a single autocratic leader into one that works for two people. The key is preparation.

Set Expectations Early

When your children are young, define your expectations in written form and formalize procedures that all employees, family and nonfamily, are expected to follow. If you wait until your kids are ready to assume leadership roles to do this, it may engender conflict rather than prevent it. Do it before they enter the business that way all involved will know what’s expected and have a chance to grow into their roles.

Start Early

As early as possible introduce the siblings to employees at all levels of the business. Take the time to educate the children on what the business does, how it works and it’s place within the community. The business itself isn’t the only important thing for them to know. Share the story of how you decided to start the business, what inspired you and what continues to inspire you to run the business. As the children get older integrate them into internships or other part-time employment within the business. However, it is best to place siblings in different jobs, in different departments in order to prevent competition.

Training & Education Matter

Before joining the company full time, siblings should be required to obtain the necessary education and training to execute their responsibilities. This may include college or technical schools, and should include a period of time working at an outside company where the family name carries no significance before they join the family company.

Team Concept from the Start

When siblings have joined the company but aren’t yet in the top leadership jobs, encourage them to work as a team by pairing them in jobs that require cooperation. Avoid putting them on tracks that have them following each other in the same job, or you risk encouraging unhealthy competition. When siblings are sent out for training or seminars, have them attend together when possible. It will encourage a sense of togetherness they can use to represent the family firm to outsiders.

Stay Connected

You should also set up regular family meetings and organize a board of directors that includes outsiders. Prepare a process for breaking tie votes in the event the siblings can’t agree on some future decision. Consider having an outsider or one of the siblings take a rotating role as the tiebreaker. Once the siblings are in leadership roles, you as a parent should not act as a tiebreaker–it should be their responsibility.

The job of preparing siblings for sharing leadership of a family company is a challenging one. With luck, it will pay off during and after their successful run, when the next generation will be ready to take the reins. If you need help setting up a succession plan that includes dual leadership REGENERATION can help. 

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