I have come to realize that many of the issues I see when I work with family businesses are due to a breakdown in one, or all of what I call the Three Cs–communication, collaboration, and cooperation. Effectively achieving the three Cs is a challenge in the best circumstances, but when you factor in the family dynamic and emotional baggage; it can become almost impossible.

The Complexity of Families

People and families are complex, and they come with their own strengths, weaknesses, opinions, and biases. When families come together to run a business the complexity increases exponentially.  The adage that familiarity breeds contempt is never truer than when you are dealing with dysfunction in the family business! Conflicting personal interests; sibling rivalry; old wounds from family feuds, and perceived favoritism are just a few of the familial issues that can muddy the waters. Unfortunately, the family dysfunction often adversely affects the health of the business. More than one family company has closed its doors due to a lack of communication, collaboration, and cooperation. The good news is that with work, focus, and intent these issues are not insurmountable!

Personalities Abound

Humans are multidimensional, and as such we all deal with the stress of family dysfunction differently. Some of us are pacifiers, trying to keep the peace and maintain the family relationships. Some are bullies that attempt to get their way with badgering and controlling behavior. Some are victims who blame their shortcomings and failures on circumstances beyond their control and never take responsibility for their actions.

Finding Common Ground

Whatever the personality type, we all have the same desire to be respected, valued, and understood. We need to know that someone appreciates us, and can see our point of view because this is how we know we’ve made a connection. Self-awareness and awareness of others is central to finding common ground on which to build or rebuild a relationship. Creating a connection to others is a fundamental building block for trust.

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The Simplexity of the Three Cs

Dysfunction is so rampant in some family companies that members have come to accept it as a condition of doing business. As a result, they tolerate bad behavior on the part of others. However, playing family politics or pretending the problem does not exist worsens the issue and doesn’t address the required evolution necessary to minimize the dysfunction. Although we may never eliminate the family dysfunction, it can be addressed through authentic and transparent communication, collaboration and cooperation so that it does not negatively impact the business.

From Complex to Simplex

Simplexity is a phrase I coined to describe the process of breaking an extremely complex concept or issue into simple points. In this case the complex issue of dysfunction in the family business can be boiled down to a collapse in one or all of the Three Cs. Think of the Three Cs as the legs of a three-legged stool–take away one leg and the stool cannot stand on its own. The simplexity of minimizing dysfunction in the family business or organization comes from valuing and balancing the relationship between communication, collaboration and cooperation.

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In order for a family company to achieve optimal performance, they must determine which leg(s) of the Three Cs stool are broken and then take action to deal with the situation. For example, a breakdown in communication will adversely impact collaboration and cooperation. When we identify and correct the challenges to effective communication we are shoring up the foundation of the Three Cs stool.

The more awareness, understanding and action created around improving communication, collaboration and cooperation, the greater the capacity of the people to understand how their contribution impacts the organization. Raising awareness is the first step toward maximizing family relationships and addressing family dysfunction.

In our next article, we’ll explore the first C—Communication and offer guidance on how to deal with dysfunctional communication.


Brent Patmos is the founder and President of Perpetual Development, Inc., an organizational performance company serving the exclusive needs of privately-held and family-owned business leaders. You can contact Brent via email: ContactPDI@perpetualdevelopment.com or by phone at 480-812-2200. You can follow Brent on twitter –  @BrentPatmos and connect with him on LinkedIn.