Working With Family Relationship Systems

Let’s Talk Family Enterprise Podcast Episode #52

Let’s Talk Family Enterprise Podcast Episode #52

Host: Steve Legler

Guest: Aileen Miziolek

Host Steve Legler welcomes Aileen Miziolek as his guest for a discussion about the intricacies of working with families, and how thinking about them as a “relationship system” can be useful. They discuss ideas around facilitation as an outsider invited to work with a family system, as well as using some basic family systems concepts that can help FEAs better understand the family relationships they encounter when working with clients.

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better serve their family clients, brought to you by family enterprise Canada. All views Information and opinions expressed during this podcast are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of family enterprise Canada.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The let’s talk family enterprise podcast. My name is Steve Legler. It’s great being your host once again. This month we’re going to look at some of the intricacies of working with families and the benefit of looking at them as a relationship system. Our guest is Aileen Missoula, a fellow FBA designand, who’s based in Toronto and as part of the family business consulting group. I’ve known Aileen for a few years now when we first met not through the FBA community, but through some coach training that we both did, which is highly inspiration for this episode. We’re also both students of family systems theory and we’ll touch on some of that as well. We’ve got a lot to get to as usual. So let’s start doing hello to our guest, Aileen Ms. Yelich. Welcome to the let’s talk family enterprise podcast. Hello,

Steven. Thanks so much for having me on the podcast today. Pleasure being here.

It’s great to have you. I’ve been looking forward to this because like I said, I’ve known you for a while. And we both did some training and relationship systems coaching and that’s what we have in common before we even knew each other as FTAs but just for the audience a little bit about your background. You started out in financial planning and then went into coaching after that, or at the same time as that.

Yeah, so like many of us fears fear is not the first career family because business consulting is never our first career. Mine started out with 20 some odd years in wealth management. And I was specifically I found that the best use of me back then was in financial planning. I really loved the strategy worked and helping families plan for the future and whatnot. So that was my focus. And then I realized that so much of our wealth comes from family business and the biggest part of the total wealth picture was not being addressed and that is the family business. And so I started to shift my career towards that as I embarked on the FIA designation, and then after that an organization relationship systems coaching this image.

Cool. So you know, the whole area of coaching, when most people think of the word coaching, it’s typically one on one, coaching and maybe as we learned in the program, when it’s with a group, it’s facilitation, but there’s also in between there’s coaching the relationship system. And so let’s just talk about the differences between what it is to coach one on one and when we’re in FBA, and we’re working with a client. We do a lot of one on one work and what’s new for some of us, is that working with the group, so what are some of the differences and things we need to learn to do?

Yeah, I love this distinction. And I think about it this way. If we coach your individual and take them out of the system and coach them all up, we can help them find their own direction, etc. But then when they come back to the group that hasn’t changed, there hasn’t been coached, it actually can create more differentiation between the person and the group and even some conflict. So the idea is that it’s more effective often in a group and in a family to coach the group to move forward together, versus having individuals move forward and then coming back to try to change or shift the system.

Interesting. So I hear you saying that yeah. Sometimes when you coach a person outside the system, and then they go back into the system. The fact that they have changed thanks in part to our coaching causes the rest of the system to have to kind of adjust that sometimes they don’t adjust well. And so there are benefits to actually working with the whole group. But I I guess you’re not saying we always have to work with the whole group. There’s a bit of it’s not an either or it’s more of a both. Exactly.

Think about it as when we send our kids to get an MBA and then they come back and they think they know everything and how they try to ship the system. doesn’t really work with the people that are left plugging away at the business in the same way even we’re trying to help understand the system and help the system learn from itself to see itself and see what the system needs and what’s emerging in the system right now. And that’s really a powerful thing. But it’s not exclusive. The other part of this is that relationships in families are made up of individuals and everyone is equally responsible for the relationship. And actually, you know, when we have a problem or conflict, and sometimes they’re perpetual conflicts in relationships, where two people just don’t get along well, but they would like to change the relationship. The thing is that is everyone’s equally responsible for the relationship and we can’t change another we can only change ourselves, making the shift in ourselves or in the individual is required in order to improve the relationship. Right. And

that’s, I think, at least in my experience, were coaching the individuals, one on one separately and then coming back together and being with them in a group can be very, very powerful, because you establish some of the connection and trust with the individuals and then when you’re in the room with them as part of the system. Well that’s because that’s another thing I wanted to talk about is the fact that as outsiders to the system, we have to be careful not to get sort of sucked into the system, because often, if we’re working with, let’s say, a couple of siblings that are in conflict, they’re each going to be trying to bring us on to their side, right? Yeah,

and you know, this is what happens in families, and where it’s difficult, and where I think being a system worker in the family homes is that families fall into patterns and they’re so predictable. You know, they know how to push each other’s buttons. They don’t always fully listen because they’re in these patterns of expecting people to behave a certain way or are they? You know, how often even with your own children do you think Well, as soon as I say this, I know what they’re gonna say. Right? You know, and that kind of pattern in a family keeps problems perpetual. So the beauty of coming in from outside the system is that you break up those patterns and you have conversations in new ways. And I often say that to families, we may have that same conversation that you’ve tried to have many times, but we’re going to have it in a new way, a more constructive way. In a way that I’m controlling the process that’s very important as a systems worker that the process belongs, like, I control the process, they bring the content, right. And so if I control the process, I can create the conversation to break up the patterns that they’re used to inhabit in a new way. And that often is very productive.

Right? Just having someone from outside the normal group in the room with them will bring out different reactions and different behaviors to disrupt the pattern and if we have even just a little bit of skill on guiding the process, we can add a lot of value to a family that is kind of stuck in those patterns that you talked about. And that’s part of being that outsider to the system who isn’t stuck in those patterns with them. Yes,

absolutely. I think about relationships, as you know, do you remember the old Atari game, the first Pong game where he came up with like, I think about it that way. You know, you’ve got two sticks. They are the individuals for example, and the ball the way the ball bounces is a relationship, right? And the way we hit the ball will change the way the ball bounces. Each stick is responsible for the relationship equally keeping the ball in the air, but the way we hit that ball will shift the relationship and so the way that we have the conversation can impact the relationship in a positive way or allow the system to be able to see itself and see what’s going on in these relationships or listen more deeply and and understand itself better.

That is so cool, because I hadn’t thought of that visual in a while but you could speed up the ball or slow it down. But also the way you hit the ball, it has maybe a spin on it or not. And if the game has to try to beat the other person, you’re going to try and act one way but if someone changed the rules and said okay, the goal is to go back and forth as long as possible, which you think would be a better analogy. For families trying to perpetuate a family business. If you could get the people to see that they’re playing an adversarial game, but really, they should be playing a cooperative game. They could get a lot more out of their relationship. Absolutely.

Yeah. And so understanding how we want to be together that’s you know, creating an alliance like that and being conscious about that. It’s the first question I asked families in the very first meeting, when I’m trying to create a safe container for them to have the meeting. I asked them how do we want to be together in this meeting? And then we want to be together as a family in this business. And it’s a very powerful question that gets them they often have never thought of it before.

That’s what I was just gonna say they haven’t thought of it and sometimes us slowing them down. And we can even try to play dumb is like well, I don’t know how you guys act. So like, tell me how you act. Tell me how you want to act. They forces them to think about and express things that they just been living unconsciously. And sometimes that becomes great fodder for early conversation to setting up an appropriate relationship between us as an outsider coming to help guide the family and help them through the conflict.

Absolutely. And one of the follow up questions I have is how do you want me to show up in this relationship in this system,


What do you need from me as a facilitator, as a family enterprise advisor, and it’s so powerful to get that on the spot feedback from them because then I have permission. You know, we establish Do I have permission to share what I’m observing with you? And when they say we want you to tell us how other families do this or that we want you to provide us with insight into how we can improve our relationships through this or communication throughout our meeting. That gives me the permission to stop, you know, to pause the meeting and bring up an observation and give them some tips in the middle that can help them to navigate their meeting better together.

This is great because I know a lot of our listeners, they discovered this world of a family’s having meetings and potentially playing some facilitation role. And a lot of them they haven’t really done it before and they worry about not doing a great job and it’s more of an attitude and walking in there and admitting what you don’t know and asking the questions of how do you want me to be and often we’ll walk in with a family who has never had an outside consultant and you’re really exploring new territory with them. And it’s actually a welcome conversation. Other times you’re working with a family that’s already dealt with people with varying degrees of success, and so they know what hasn’t worked for them. And if you hear that early on, and they share what didn’t work, that’s good to know as well.

Absolutely. You know, actually, that brings up in me, one of the things that we pay attention to in systems coaching is the ghosts in the system. And the ghosts are the things that influence system that are not necessarily present. So past advisors, founders who have passed on but are still very present in the atmosphere of the family, in the culture of the family in a way the families meeting or in the business. It’s really important to address these because they can influence and you may not realize why family is acting a certain way or responding in a certain way. And it may be that they just came from working with somebody else who may have had different degrees of success with them. And had a different approach even to what the current facilitator is suggesting or embarking on. And so it’s just important to be really fully present in that meeting with and to slow it down. Like you said, that’s one of the actually it’s my New Year’s resolution for 2023 is to slow things down and I find it very helpful in family meetings.

So you need to be curious about like what is going on because often the families don’t necessarily know that that ghost is there or want to acknowledge that ghost and more often I think it has to do with a patriarch, perhaps it was no longer in the picture because they’ve died, but their spirit and the culture they’ve created is still there. And then different family members hold on to that culture more than others and that becomes a little bit part of the you know what the scratchiness of the family is that some people are acting like the founders still there and other people want to move on. But what we can do as the outsider is sort of ask those questions in a curious way. And then ask them how they are all dealing with it and basically acknowledging that there is a ghost in the room that some of them probably still see and other ones want to pretend isn’t there. And so as we reveal the system to itself, as I love to say, which is one of the things we learned in that course coaching that we both revealing the system to itself we come in as an outsider and we can show them what we see, because we see the forest and not the trees that they are in.

Yeah, absolutely. And another way to say that is to hold up a knee or to the system. And that’s the exact same thing and it’s really one of the greatest functions of a systems coach. Is to hold up a mirror so the system can be more aware of itself and these things whether they’re ghosts or whether you know from people in the past or ideas or, or failures or great successes even can influence the system and the family in that meeting. So they may have expectations because they did something really well before and you know, and currently it’s not working and they’re wondering what was not working with it work so well before. So anyway, the whole point is really being present. With them and being able to as a facilitator, it’s not always easy to be present. Right. And I want to just to draw attention to that because it’s one of the most important things to sometimes when we create all these agendas, and we plan a meeting, we could be making the family up. You know, we could be just over planning when instead we need to be present and be able to move and watch what’s emerging in the system. Systems are always emerging as one of the fundamental principles of systems thinking if we’ve really crafted an agenda and crafted a whole thing for a big structure for them to fall into full day meeting, but we’re not responding to what’s emerging in the present. It can be a real amiss for the family.

Yeah, so kind of something very often things will come out during the meeting that are all of a sudden, oh, wow, there’s something big here and you might not even recognize what it is. And it might be tempting to say well, we’re just about at the time we had a lot of for this subject that we have other things on the agenda we need to get to. And that can be very tempting, but it can also be a big mistake. I always say that the big thing we have to do is show up with an agenda and be ready to throw it in the garbage if other things come up. That are more important than what we thought we were going to get to.

Absolutely yeah, I mean, no structure is also not the way to go structure and processes your friend. We learn that as fears and we have to be able to shift to meet the family where they’re at.

Right and where they’re out sometimes. And often when people like us get called in. It’s because there’s some conflict. And I want to switch a little bit to that to talk about the positive side the conflict and what it can bring us. And when I talked about this people sometimes like oh, what’s positive by conflict? And then immediately contrast that to like false harmony, where everyone just smiles and says, Oh, everything’s great. And really, it’s not. So can you shed a little bit of your thoughts on on the positive side of of what conflict can bring? Yeah,

conflict. is really a signal that something’s trying to happen in the system. And if you think about families, and let’s talk about siblings for a minute, and you know from Bowen, family systems theory Bowen family theory that the importance of diversification, right, differentiation, excuse me, and so when people are differentiated, they come with different skills, different perspectives, and in families trying to align those we need those different perspectives, they add so much richness and information to and ideas and creativity to the system. And then we have to though, be able to differentiate and then realign. And so the conflict really is that in that way, it’s a symbol, it’s a signal, a signal that something’s trying to happen in the system, and if you can see it that way, you can get curious about it. Instead of judging it as good or bad. Often it’s trying to show us something and it belongs to the system, not the individual even when there if there is a family where there are a few siblings that are not getting along. That’s a conflict that belongs to the family system. There may be systemic reasons for that, then trying to find the root cause in that conflict is easier when we come to it with curiosity and understand that each voice is the voice of the system that’s necessary for the system. People play different roles and systems. And all systems rely on the rules for structure right? And hearing the voices of each of those rules and remembering that the rules belong to the system. If Johnny wasn’t the disrupter, then Jill might be the disrupter. But the system might need a disrupter to move forward to be creative. find new solutions, and that’s where conflict emerges. And it can be a great thing for a family as long as a family has good relationship skills and communication skills and can realign after the conflict and integrate the learning from the conflict to enhance the functionality of the family. And

that’s what I always say is that’s where an outside person can play a key role because of family typically left to themselves. If you have the same five family members, they will remain stuck in that rut until someone from the outside that shakes it up and works with them to find a better way or a different way of being that can release some of that creativity in the conflict. And I’ll say there’s there’s often energy in conflict like that. False harmony is very, you know, acid, and like people are waiting for something to happen. But then if there’s some conflict, all of a sudden, there’s like an opportunity for a fresh start and, and we as the outsiders can hopefully play that role of noticing that and finding the positive creativity and working, impressing upon the family the need to learn to be in relationship together to get the positive part.

Absolutely. And that’s really the opportunity. I mean, you know, calling that one of the ways that I express that is creating a learning family culture. And in seeing that conflict as an opportunity. We know that crisis and opportunity are linked right in the same way. This is an opportunity and how can we really pay attention be aware of it from a perspective of what’s the gift and the opportunity that this conflict is presenting to us? And it’s hard in the moment because people get very worked up like you said, it’s a lot of energy and a lot a can be a lot of negative energy that comes out of that. And we have to be able to kind of shift that negative energy to curiosity. And part of that is like moving from judgment. This is a terrible thing that this conflict has erupted and we’re all doomed and we can work together to how can we learn through this? What do we have to do in order to avoid situations like this for what do we get to learn from this that we can integrate to be more productive in a different way or whatever, you know, it’s it’s all of that, but and because there is often such heat in those conflicts, think of it as a pipe and steam. We have to vent the system to let some of the steam out so that we can come back down and deal with the conflict from a more productive way than anger. For example, although anger can be productive periodically. But you know, thinking about it that way, we’re letting the steam out of the system, so ventilating each part of that and really getting to the essence of why people are digging in with a physician is all about what’s going on in the system, really, and allowing the system to express itself that way, not being afraid of that expression. And that’s

certainly a way that we can add value as an outside of the system to hold the space to allow people to vent but then to explain Hey, that’s just normal and you know, last time you vented and now your brother vented and, and that’s okay, it’s all part of the product, you know, working through this stuff, allowing people to normalize that people need to blow off steam, but then to have them want to come back and have work on the family culture of learning to be together learning to realign after some conflict, and reengage and using that energy positively to create that intentional family learning culture that you’re talking about.

Yeah, and it takes courage to do that. Part of our job also is to help them believe they can do it. And because, you know, it does take a certain amount of courage and I I really do believe that if we believe we can do it and if we keep our feet to the fire, if we come to the table, if we get curious if we learn the relationship skills that we need to have better communication, and I differentiate between those we can circle back to that but if we do all that, I think that we help the system believe in their ability to really work together and function together and I have come to the realization that that that fostering that belief is also a big part of our role in the system.

Right believing in them, even when they don’t believe in themselves and I’ve talked to a lot of FTAs about when you meet a family and they’ll often say oh my god, we’re so dysfunctional you know, we’re so what everyone thinks there’s they’re way worse. And I always love to tell, you know, anonymous stories of other families that are way worse to make people feel like no, this is just normal stuff, normalizing what they’re going through, and the fact that working with family members, especially siblings, especially siblings, I’m seeing more and more simply work than ever. I think it has to do with demographics in our space, but learning to treat a family as a relationship system, I think has been a big learning for me and I think that’s one of the takeaways. I’d like to leave listeners. With is to recognize the fact that the family system is there and we are an outsider to it. And if we can help them see what’s going on within the family and slow things down, we can be helpful to them.

Yeah, absolutely. The system’s approach is definitely an important one. And there are nested systems in this as well. We have to acknowledge each individual getting back to the, you know, do we coach individuals, do we coach them as a system? It’s Yes, and because each individual has their own system, you know, we have internal voices. Not everybody is just one sided. Everyone is multi sided. We’ve got many voices inside us that need to be aligned. So we need a personal alignment, as well as part of every system. That’s the first system itself and then and then you know, there maybe were branches of relationships and then you know, you’ve got the whole family system. So there’s a lot of work to be done in all this and a lot of awareness that helps systems be able to be intentional about how what they want to create together and I think this is the big thing you said that there was you know, a lot more work with siblings. I really work an awful lot with siblings. I really created some really great tools that I feel help siblings from the system’s work. And what I will say is that you’re seeing a lot of going from one generation, the first generation to the next generation. It’s always about one person being at the lead and being the creator of this business versus now two people or three people or 10 people will create the wealth and how do we go from being an individual creator to co creating

a kradic to Democratic leadership is a huge, huge challenge. And an area that well hopefully will provide a lot of work for a lot of FTAs going forward. We’re getting to the end of our time here. I’m glad to know though that you at least have agreed to become a co host on some of these podcasts as well. So you’ll be able to take a lot of your experience and weave it in with with the guests that you’re going to bring on. But at this point, I’ve got to switch to where I normally go and get to the last two items, which is a book recommendation. And then one piece of advice from someone who works with families to others who also work with family. So have you got a book recommendation that you didn’t kill us?

I do. So the book I like to recommend is system inspired leadership, how to talk collective wisdom to navigate change, enhance agility and foster collaboration.

We’ll put a link to that in the show notes and now you’re going to try and pronounce the author’s name.

Yeah, Frank. We do beard and Marita for John.

We are global. And that CRR global who are the organization that runs the horse coaching program that Aileen and I both took and so we’ll put a link to that in the show notes as well. But the first reference and now so one piece of advice. Yeah,

you know, I like to bring to people’s attention that what’s required is a balance between structure and relationship. And they both have to be equally well developed. And when we’re working with families, and we get stuck somewhere. Ask yourself Is it you know, that do we have enough structure do we have the right structure to support the relationships and also know that no matter how much governance we want to put into place or think the family needs, if the relationships are underdeveloped, that governance cannot develop properly. It will be undermined, it will not be sustainable. And so the importance of actually developing those relationships and coaching those relationships to be able to sustain the governance that we create and even have the right governance. When we get stuck look, is it enough relationship or is it enough structure and process and balance those things out knowing that relationship skills can be taught and they can be learned? And it’s an important part of our work,

and when we help a family improve their relationship systems, they’re often very, very thankful for that. And that creates sticky clients. So there’s another reason to go that way. This flew by really quickly elite as it always does. But elite miss, you’re like thanks for joining us and sharing your expertise with our audience. Thank

you Steve. I look forward to hosting this podcast and bringing on guests that expand on some of the discussions that we’ve had today.

Fantastic. listeners. If you have not already subscribed, please do so make sure you never miss any of these monthly episodes. Thank you again for joining us. I’m Steve Legler. Until next time.

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