Coaches at work: Dispute between siblings threatens company’s existence
A tragic accident surprisingly ripped the manager of a medium-sized electrical engineering company out of life at the age of 58. The patriarch had always wanted to do everything himself and would probably have led his compony into old age. Now he left behind a wife, three children and a company with about 400 employees.
After a period of helplessness and grief, the family fought fiercely for the future of the company. The eldest daughter, an accountant, wanted to sell the company because she saw no entrepreneur in the family. There were first inquiries from a Chinese competitor. The middle son, an engineer, had founded his own small electrical engineering company with moderate success and now wanted to run his father’s company. The youngest son, a doctor-to-be, wanted peace in the family and to ensure that the family’s assets were preserved and that the mother was cared for. He also came up with the idea of hiring a psychological consultant to provide coaching.
In the coaching process it quickly became clear that the problem of succession could not be solved with logic and factual arguments. Rather, every position seemed to be fundamentally wrong if it was found to be correct by another family member. By pointing out that some reasons for the dispute could be found in the family constellation, all family members could be convinced to try out a one-on-one coaching and later a group coaching.
The following family dynamics became apparent: The recently deceased father had already been a dominant person in the past (picture: gorilla). He worked a lot and was rarely at home. When he was there, there was a lot of noise. The mother tried diligently to make everything right (picture: hamster in a wheel). Dissatisfied with her marriage, her lack of professional development as a housewife and her own childhood, she projected all her desires for self-realization into her children. The realized very early that they had to fulfil a function for their mother. The upbringing was marked by ambitions and rules. The children described their mother as “caring and emotionally distant”. The eldest daughter took over a leading role in the family at an early age when the father was not there. She was precocious, determined and often took the initiative. To her brothers she was like a second mother and she felt overwhelmed by this role. After graduating from business high school, she completed a commercial apprenticeship in order to quickly become financially independent from her parents and to stand on her own feet.
The youngest son was Mama’s favourite. He took care of his mother when she was feeling bad. Later he studied medicine to become a doctor. The middle son, in the “sandwich” position between a strong sister and a spoiled brother, had always wanted to emulate his father. However, he had never believed that he would be able to take over the company. So he studied and did his doctorate in electrical engineering. He founded his own company to show to his father. The father had never praised him. He also thought his doctorate was useless: “We don’t need a doctor here.”
In the course of the coaching, the family members learned to differentiate which feelings actually belong in earlier times. They were able to work on critical experiences and re-evaluate them from today’s perspective. Also an awareness was developed of what role everyone had in the family and how this role was brought into the discussion about the company. Nevertheless, the siblings did not yet feel ready to take care of their father’s business together on a regular and permanent basis. Their personalities were too different and their experience was not sufficient. Thereby the family decided to keep the company, but to hire a qualified director for the management. The family members withdrew to the shareholders’ meeting. However, it was agreed that the two older siblings would be able to join the management later after having gained professional experience outside their father’s company.
As a result of the initiated process of knowledge, two family members engaged in a personal coaching for several years to come.
Note: In order to protect the privacy of our clients, the above case study was slightly changed. The family dynamics and the methods used are reproduced unchanged.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Kretschmar