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Managing Family Conflict with a Family Ombudsman

Managing Family Conflict with a Family Ombudsman

In one family I worked with, there had always been one branch of the family who took a position that was the opposite of what the majority of the family wanted. If everyone was for something, they were against it. If everyone was against it, they were for it. It was really difficult.

Over time, the isolated branch of the family came to define themselves by their opposition. It became their identity within the family.

While the family leadership was working on implementing task forces and committees to get more and more people involved in business stewardship, one member of the family quietly reached out to the isolated branch. He didn’t do it intending to bring them back into the fold. He didn’t do it to manipulate them. But they were his cousins, and it was important to him to have a good relationship with them.

The isolated branch had two young children, and this quiet self-appointed liaison made a point of developing a relationship with the kids. He visited them. He called them on the phone. As they got older, he offered them a summer internship so they could learn about the business. It was so under the radar that nobody realized what he was doing.

When the isolated branch of the family attended family meetings, for the first time they had a touchstone, somebody they knew and trusted. They were estranged from everyone else, but having one friendly face in the room made them more open to participating in the activities that had been planned for the whole group.

Just by being a good cousin, by being someone who cared about having a strong relationship with all his family, one person was able to make more progress than the entire family council.

Although the role wasn’t formalized, this person was acting as a sort of ombudsman.

Reaching out to isolated branches or members of the family on a personal level can be very effective. It reminds everyone that family relationships are the foundation for the business. It’s still important to create task forces to involve more people, and it’s still important to talk over planned changes with the likely dissenters before presenting proposals to the whole group.  But it’s the underlying relationships that make the family business possible. Healing the relationships is good for the family and the business.



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