Most family businesses actually 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 really too young to 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 actually are others who should be 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.  Many hands make light work, the saying goes.

But what if we’re talking about more than simple “work”.

I’m trying to get at some of the things that underlie the complex nature of enterprising families, who are working towards an intergenerational wealth transition.person holding another person

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 that 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 like 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 do work in the business, while others do not.

The “information asymmetry” that 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.  

And by “upcoming”, I mean within a decade or so. In fact, it’s really hard 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 info should fall on the ones who work in the business, but that doesn’t mean that 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 a “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 might be useful.

Last week in Live from the Forum – Success Transitions 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 be looking 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.