Family Business Relationships

Family firms have two overlapping systems: a rational system - the way the business works - and an emotional system - the way the family relationships work – or don’t.

Where the emotional system fails and family conflict affects the business, the problem is how to approach one so as to benefit the other, when they seem inextricably linked.

People generally have three types of responses to conflict.

The first two are the classic Fight or Flight responses hardwired into our survival systems.

Escape responses include denying the existence of the conflict, avoiding it and fleeing from it; no one addresses the conflict and its underlying causes so it festers and grows.

Attack responses include power plays such as legal positioning, instituting litigation, physical or verbal threats or intimidation, and sometimes violence; these will also cause irreparable damage to the family and the business.

There is a more rational response that is often difficult as it requires an objectivity that is almost impossible to maintain for someone inside the conflict.

Mediation responses include facilitated discussions, mediation and facilitated negotiation. Generally speaking all the surveys of family businesses suggest this response type is the best approach to resolving conflicts for both the family and the business.


So How Could Working with Facilitators Help?

At its simplest, Facilitators make a difficult conversation or negotiation easier, because they are independent, trained and impartial professionals. 

Facilitators will work with a family to do:

A lot of thinking: about the conflict, how it developed, what changed in the relationships, what happened to communication, what was felt when someone did something and how they reacted (and so might have felt) when someone else did certain things.

A lot of listening: to everyone's story, seeing it from their perspective, even if they don't agree with it, so that each will listen to the other.

A lot of problem solving: It is vital to remember a facilitated discussion is not about blame. The idea is to identify problems and solve them, not have a "Yes you did", "No I didn't", "Yes you did" shouting match. The Facilitator will help everyone to remain positive and focused on the future, rather than dwelling too much on the past.

Some future planning – what do the different members of the family and the business want their individual futures to be like – retired, working - and how would the business contribute to funding this, if at all?

These discussions are nearly always hard work, but if the family want future relationships that will benefit both family and business, then with help from experiened facilitators, they are more likely to achieve their goals together, than if they leave the negotiations to lawyers or other outsiders.


What Experience could we bring?

Mairi Mickel

With ten years’ boardroom experience and my roles as a shareholder of Mactaggart & Mickel, a trustee of the Mickel Fund and a governance trainer for the IOD, I bring a combination of theory and practice, empathy and experience. 

I founded Mairi Mickel’s Business Families in 2012 to provide business families with specialist continuity or exit planning support. I’ve helped a wide range of UK and international owners to future proof both their family business and their business family for this generation, the next and the one after that. 

My advanced training as a family business advisor and qualified coach, as well as my own personal experience, lets me work collaboratively with business families – both emerging and well-established – and their trusted professional advisors, in response to either a crisis situation or as part of a planned transition programme. 

07974 949 896 [email protected]

Jeremy Scuse

A psychologist by degree I ran marketing teams and companies for multinationals for 25 years,  before spending the next decade running my own businesses. I have been a Managing Director of a PLC, a Fellow of the IOD and now an accredited CEDR mediator and founder of Catalyst in 2005.

We have worked with dozens of Scottish SMEs, many of them family firms, identifying the causes of conflict and helping them re-establish positive relationships and structures to benefit both the family and the business. 

Occasional conflict in relationships is inevitable, the key question is how we deal with it. We bring that experience, plus an objectivity and positivity that may help you cross whatever hurdles you may be facing.

To find out more use the link to Resources where you’ll find downloads with more detail, or to discuss how facilitation might be helpful in your specific circumstances, use the Contact Us section at the bottom of the page or call Jeremy on 0773388 2543 or Mairi on 078 974 040 896


Our Resources