Academic journal article Family Relations

Conflict in Family Business: Common Metaphors and Suggestions for Intervention

Academic journal article Family Relations

Conflict in Family Business: Common Metaphors and Suggestions for Intervention

Article excerpt

The interdependence between family and business systems in family business can create conflicts unknown to families without involvement in a business. Using a phenomenological approach based on extensive research and consulting experiences with families in business, we describe three of the most common conflicts that can result from the mutual impact of business and family systems. We provide ways to diagnose problem areas and offer intervention suggestions to produce change in the family business system.

Key Words: conflict, family business, family therapy, intervention.

In the early 1980s, family therapists recognized that in the therapeutic context families that owned businesses were different from families that did not own businesses (Beckhard & Dyer, 1983b; Davis, 1983). Therapists and researchers found that the presence of a business shaped the context and increased the complexity of the family system and vice versa (Kepner, 1983; Lansberg, 1983; Whiteside & Herz-Brown, 1991). Over the last 30 years, researchers and practitioners alike intensified the attention they focused on the mutual relationships between family and business systems (Gedajlovic, Carney, Chrisman, & Kellermanns, 2012; Sharma, Hoy, Astrachan, & Koiranen, 2007; Stewart & Miner, 201 1).

The primary focus of most family business research appears to concentrate on the impact that family has on business (Goel, Mazzola, Phan, Pieper, & Zachary, 2012). The impact that business has on family remains relatively little understood, however, despite past notable achievements in this area (Astrachan, 2010; Wright & Kellermanns, 2011; Zachary, 2011). This is problematic, given that families are the primary owners of businesses around the world (La Porta, Lopez-de-Silanes, & Shleifer, 1999) and the most important providers of start-up capital to new ventures (Astrachan, Zahra, & Sharma, 2003). Yet researchers, practitioners, and therapists lack a good understanding of the significant impact these businesses and ventures have on the families who own and operate them.

An area of research that implicitly addresses this phenomenon is the literature on the work-family interface. Research on the workfamily interface typically focuses on conflicts caused by work roles interfering with family roles or family roles interfering with work roles (Grzywacz, Almeida, & McDonald, 2002; McMillan, Morris, & Atchley, 2011; MesmerMagnus & Viswesvaran, 2005; Voydanoff, 2005). Despite the important accomplishments of this rich stream of literature, the research commonly ignores conflicts caused by roles other than work roles that family members can assume in a business, such as ownership or governance roles (for two noteworthy exceptions, see Karofsky et al., 2001, as well as Smyrnios et al., 2003).

The purpose of this article is to explore common ways in which the business system may affect the family system. By doing so, we make several contributions. First, we provide family therapists with suggestions for diagnosis and interventions in working with families in business. Second, we complement work-family literature by incorporating conflicts caused by leadership or ownership roles that are not currently addressed in the literature, but may contribute to a more expanded understanding of the work-family interface. Third, we inform family business literature by putting new emphasis on the way in which business affects family to complement the prevailing view that looks at the ways in which family affects business.


The influence of families on businesses, both established enterprises and new ventures, is pervasive in the United States and around the world (Astrachan et al., 2003; La Porta et al., 1999). In the United States, family businesses account for over half of the gross domestic product, 60% of total employment, 78% of all new jobs, and 65% of all wages paid (Astrachan & Shanker, 2003). …

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