Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

ACCOUNTS OF INTERVENTIONS: Turbulent Family and Organisational Dynamics in the Context of Succession in a Family Business: A Joint Intervention to Contain and Work through Destructive Oedipal Forces 1

Academic journal article Organisational and Social Dynamics

ACCOUNTS OF INTERVENTIONS: Turbulent Family and Organisational Dynamics in the Context of Succession in a Family Business: A Joint Intervention to Contain and Work through Destructive Oedipal Forces 1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This paper describes a consultancy project with a family-owned international pharmaceutical company. At the point of contracting this work the company was stable and successfully trading through the recession in a niche international market. However, as the founding parents were ageing, succession processes were becoming more significant. At the beginning of the contract, relations among the siblings were strained and somewhat dysfunctional. For the company to survive, the siblings had to develop good working relations and a capacity to cooperate. It also required managing and effecting the transition from parental power to sibling power.

In this paper we discuss the development of our intervention and our reflections on the following themes:

a) The potentially destructive oedipal forces operating in and among the protagonists.

b) The emotional power of the interaction of the organisational and family system.

c) The transference phenomena between the client system and the consultant system.

CONTEXT AND HISTORY

The company was started by the father-now in his eighties-in the 1950s. He is the son of an immigrant who arrived in this country with nothing, after the First World War, and made his way into the chemical industry.

The father, a trained biologist, developed his own business, a highend specialist biochemical company that develops new pharmaceutical products for the international medical market, which now employs about 300 people in this country and about 150 in an overseas facility.

He married a British woman. They shared a common interest and passion in developing this business and in looking after their workforce, albeit with a "paternalistic" approach.

So over the years the father would drive the company forward, concentrating on the technical excellence of its products and the development of its markets, while the mother made it her business to get to know the workforce and to promote their well-being.

Like many immigrant families there is a great energy to succeed and to fit in. The father brought to this project a deep love of and technical ability in his chosen industry. At one point, he told us that the company was "the love of his life". Another source of the motivation, drive, and energy in the system is his happy marriage and the couple's joint "project": to develop a quality company that really cared about the well-being of its workforce, which their children would inherit and safeguard.

The assumption was that if the children were to come into the company, the males would provide the technical and leadership talent and the females the human resources aspect. Thus they would repeat the parental couple dynamic.

Both the sons had spells as managing directors of the company and both were sacked by the father-one for exposing the company to too much debt and the other for being too risky in his decision-making. Both brothers hotly deny that they put the company at risk and were badly hurt by being accused and treated in this way. Both brothers subsequently took jobs in other companies after being given satisfactory financial settlements. The two daughters have roles in the company: in the training-development area. Generally, these roles had nothing to do with technical production processes nor the core management activity. The exception is the older daughter who has a management role in the overseas facility.

Organisational structure

The situation we met when we began to work with them was that all four siblings formed the board of management with the father continuing to own the company and possess the ultimate authority. They appointed a managing director-from outside the family-near the beginning of our intervention.

The siblings were not working well together, neither in the family system nor in the business system (Gersick, 1997). Although retired, the father was very active in intervening in the company. …

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