Most family businesses start out with one major contributor who builds something large enough to eventually employ many people, including other family members.

As any parent with children who want to help out around the kitchen knows, even when they’re too young to really contribute, it can sometimes feel like a step back as you need to actually take a bit more time to include some of these helpers.

This week, we’re looking at the idea of sharing the load with family members, as the family matures and there are others able to contribute to the family’s success.

Bringing them in isn’t always as simple as we hoped at the outset.

“Many Hands Make Light Work”

In theory at least, sharing the work among many people makes things easier for everyone.  As the saying goes, many hands make light work. But what if we’re talking about more than simple “work”?

Specifically, what about some of the things that underlie the complex nature of enterprising families, who are working towards an intergenerational wealth transition There’s a lot of work to do there in many cases, and if it were just a lot of work, it might be simple to divvy up. But what if it feels more like a load?

“It’s Not the Load that Breaks You Down …”

The idea for this post came from a recent webinar I attended by the Family Enterprise eXchange (FEX).  The presenter happened to be a friend and colleague, Thomasina Williams, with whom I once presented at the Rendez-Vous of the Purposeful Planning Institute (PPI).

She was presenting on Stress, Health and Well-Being as a result of the pandemic, and one of her slides featured a quote I loved. It was from Lena Horne, and it read: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it”.  According to Google, it also seems to be attributed to C.S. Lewis and Lou Holtz. It seems the great quotes get recycled a lot.

When Does Work Become a Load?

When we think about work, we’re typically pondering things that go on in what I like to call the “business circle”. If you aren’t yet familiar with the Three Circle Model of family business, you may want to start here: Three Circles + Seven Sectors = One A-Ha Moment

The place where things can start to feel more like a load often come up in the “family circle” and even the “ownership circle”.

Part of the difficulty in the family circle comes from the fact that there are often some members of the family who work in the business while others do not.

The “information asymmetry” this creates can become a big issue for the family to address.  When someone is a family member and perhaps even an owner but isn’t involved in the day-to-day dealings of the company, they can feel like they’re flying blind at times.

Sharing the Load

Keeping all family members current with what’s happening in the business becomes important when there’s an upcoming generational transition.  By “upcoming”, I mean within a decade or so. In fact, it’s difficult to start this process too early.

One way to make the load easier to carry is to share it among different people. Of course the onus of sharing the information should fall on the ones who work in the business, but that doesn’t mean all the work is theirs alone.

All family members who are currently owners (or those who expect to be in the future) also share in this task.

Ideally, the information flow should have both a push and pull component.

Lightening the Load

As we think about ways to lessen a load, apart from sharing it, there is also the possibility of making it lighter. This may seem like a bit more of a stretch, but here’s one way to look at it that may be useful.

Last week in Live from the Forum – Success Transitions when we were looking at regular family forums, I don’t think I spent enough time talking about the importance of having fun together as a family.

Everyone should look forward to such meetings, knowing that there will be plenty of opportunities to share some laughs along the way.

In my book, spending time with people you love, and having fun together always makes things much lighter.

Become a Member for Your Expertly Curated Advice

Joining the Family Wealth Library means access to the information the legacy builders need to navigate family dynamics and protect our wealth. We can keep what is ours by managing familial challenges and building trust and transparency.