Nice to Meet You; Let’s Start Working Together
Working with business families and their members is always interesting and rarely simple.
From the outside it looks relatively easy to get going with any family, but if you’ve ever been in a position to do this, you know how complex it all can be.
That’s what I want to look at this week, and I’ll contrast different terms that come from various professions and how they handle the beginnings of working relationships.
Bottom line, there is no simple standard way that these relationships work, although each practitioner will typically try to develop one or two ways that they prefer to construct such relationships.
Discovering What Makes a Family Tick
Upon being contacted by someone about working with a family, the fascinating work of finding out who’s who and how everyone relates to each other begins.
That work often continues for as long as the relationship exists, although much of it is “front loaded” and the learning curve at the outset is generally pretty steep.
I used to laugh when people who do this work would tell me that they start off by drawing a genogram or family diagram, but I don’t laugh anymore.
I find myself doing that very early on, because once you get the hang of it, you can’t go back to just taking notes ever again.
The process that many call “discovery” starts from the very first call or email, and for some it is a key step that they actually outline as part of their process, that begins after they’ve come to a formal agreement to work together.
The Contracting Stage
The formal agreement between the advisor and the family can be quite simple or very complex.
Whether it ends up being several pages long and executed with a signature or if it is more informal and mostly verbal, it does make sense to spend some time upfront in order to properly set expectations.
The Family Enterprise Advisor program (FEA) I completed years ago, where I had my calling to this work, spends a good deal of time on making sure those who complete the program truly understand how important the contracting stage is.
The program also encourages advisors to collaborate with other professionals in service of families, and much emphasis is placed on the contracting that is required between such advisor parties.
As things change during the relationship, it will often be necessary to revisit the question and get into re-contracting too.
Designing the Alliance
Where FEA’s talk about contracting, coaches who trained with CTI like I did talk about “designing the alliance” instead.
I like that language because it gets at a couple of very important aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed.
The idea of “design” speaks to the fact that it isn’t always the same, and there’s a need and desire to customize the relationship between the coach and client.
The “alliance” part is all about the fact that while there are two parties, and the coach and client become true allies and work together for the good of the client.
The client is not alone, and they are also expected to be quite active during the coaching process, in fact, they will be the ones who do most of the work.
One Person or the Whole Family
My favourite part of all of this is that when I got into this business of serving families, I always imagined only working with families as a group.
Much of the work I do is of course still done with entire families, but thanks to some of what I learned during my Bowen Family Systems Theory studies, I realized that one can make great strides for the whole family even when working with just one family leader.
The discovery is very different when you only hear about people and never meet them, but a relatively clear picture does emerge, albeit from a subjective view of the individual client.
In all cases it is important to get these relationships off on the right foot, and that means asking a lot of open ended questions and then doing a lot of listening.
Coaching one person or facilitating for a whole family require different but related skills. It’s fascinating work and if you are naturally curious about people it can be lots of fun too.