Ideas & Stories

Roast Lamb and the Family Business

We have had a Sunday roast lamb with my wife’s parents now for nearly forty years. Even our children have grown to love this family ritual. Throughout the world, the tradition of the regular sharing of food brings families together even after children have long left home and started their own families.

Indeed, families who are in business together bring another layer to this ritual … the forum to communicate matters of hugely important mutual concern … for better or for worse. We will look at both sides of the table!

How the Dinner Table strengthens the Family Business …

Let’s start by looking at why that meal adds so much to the power of the family business:

  • The gathering of the family around the table builds on a lifetime of shared values and dreams. These subtle forces become understood, refined, reinforced and passed through to the business. Naturally, strong vision and values in any business is a very powerful driver.
  • Whilst mostly unstructured and generally informal, the family table facilitates communication and forms the basis of businesses management meetings. As noted below, there is usually room for improvement but it does provide an outlet that is otherwise missing for sole entrepreneurs.
  • Family meals reinforce traditions, promote caring, trust, respect and support, and bring greater meaning to the concept of the family working together. In many ways, it means that the whole family is listening and learning ‘on the job’. That culture thus pervades the actual business.
  • Regular discussions can lead to bigger conversations such as joining the business, career planning, reward and performance ideals, retirement and ultimately, succession.
  • A family is a safe place. It offers lifetime membership, unconditional acceptance and a place for sharing. It therefore provides the environment for learning, making mistakes and a level of forgiveness. Unlike the tough world of business!
  • Responsibility and authority can be gradually passed on to the next generation and the opportunity for mentoring is real.

This can all happen while passing the gravy!

But there comes a time …

As family businesses evolve and grow, the Sunday meal is probably no longer sufficiently effective in delivering what the business now needs. It was easier when the business was smaller and the table place settings were fewer.

In fact, there are many reasons for the ritual meal to no longer deliver quality outcomes. It gets hard to properly separate family business issues from business management issues and shareholder issues.

Emotions, hidden agendas, personalities, grudges and grievances, ingrained behaviors and role modeling can see less productive outcomes. It can be hard to recognize and resolve conflicts around the table.

This usually means that it is time to look to professionalise meetings. To take parts of these meetings away from the dinner table and have them properly conducted can remove the heat from the table. Bringing in professional advisors can further add objectivity to long held family views and behaviors. It can be a refreshing change.

The results are productive for the business and of course, can bring back harmony around the table. Of course, the discussion about the family business doesn’t go away, it simply takes a new, structured, less emotional path. That can make the roast lamb taste just like it used to!