Every business needs to be wary of getting into a rut, but inevitably when things are going well, getting complacent can become a habit that is hard to avoid.

A problem that seems to affect many family businesses is “groupthink”, where everyone adopts a certain point of view, and they tend to see everything the same way. Sometimes you can miss things that are happening almost right in front of you, just because everyone is hearing and seeing the same things all the time.

Today’s blog will outline a few ways that you may want to consider that can help you think “Outside the Box”, and bring in a fresh, much-needed perspective.

I remember when I was still in University, my Dad told me that he had heard that many family business experts recommended that children should not be hired by their family’s business right out of school, but only after getting at least 3 to 5 years of work experience elsewhere first.

Unfortunately for me, he also decided that this wise counsel did not apply in our case, and I have lived to regret that still to this day. There are few if any exceptions to this advice from my point of view, and it is not just about the outside perspective that such experience will bring.

Another way for a family to get a different viewpoint is by hiring consultants with specific skills for a certain project. Companies already hire outside accountants and lawyers to handle certain tasks for them, but there are also any number of other tasks that can be given to outsiders who have a special skill set that you do not have in house.

Whether it is an architect for a building expansion or a search firm to find a new key employee, there are lots of opportunities to get input from people who look at the world in a different way.

The Canadian Association of Family Enterprise (CAFÉ) has a program for their members called the Personal Advisory Group (PAG) that creates an atmosphere of sharing between family business owners in different industries so they can share stories and learn from each other.

My Dad was a member of a PAG that outlasted most of the businesses that its members owned, and a few of the members even invited me to join them for lunch after he passed away. I know that he got a lot of great advice from these people who also became good friends. I am sure that he also gave them his opinion on the issues that they faced as well.

Of course a more formal “Board of Advisors” is also a way to get an outside opinion on things in the family business. If you really want this to work well though, a lot of work needs to go into who gets invited to be on this board and what you want them to do.

Simply getting your accountant and lawyer together with one of your golf buddies is really not the way I would recommend doing this, although it may be better than doing nothing.

The last way to get an outsider’s viewpoint that I want to mention is not so much about the business, but more about the family. There are always business issues that affect the family, and family issues that affect the business.

Most people focus on the business issues, where outside help is plentiful and well known, and they hope that the family issues will simply take care of themselves. Unfortunately, they rarely do work themselves out, and more often than not, they get worse with time.

Believe it or not, there are people out there who specialize in the family area, who understand business families, and who can facilitate discussions, offer mediation when necessary, and coaching and educating of the “rising generation”.

And in Canada, IFEA has awarded the FEA (Family Enterprise Advisor) designation to 115 of us so far, and counting!