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Working With Family: The Keys to Success

We like to say that Plantscapers is like a family, and we really mean it. Mark and I have been blessed to find team members that we hold as closely as blood family. We also have the distinct pleasure of working with our immediate family. Over the years, we’ve come to treasure this unique working and living situation and want to share the pros, cons, and tips for working with a spouse, child, or parent. 

There are a lot of pros to working with your family. Basing a working relationship on a familiar relationship means that there is already established trust and common vocabulary. You also have a common goal—if that business succeeds, the family succeeds as well. You know your strengths and weaknesses and can play into those, getting the absolute best work. And you know that you all share a sincere dedication to your success. 

Of course, there are potential drawbacks as well. Putting all your eggs in one basket can be risky. If the business fails, the family does too. Creating clear lines of communication is more important than ever. Assumptions based on things that happen in your off time can be detrimental to your working life. And if not handled properly, relationships can suffer when the lines become blurred between being the boss versus being the wife, daughter, son, or sibling. 

Based on decades of experience, I want to share what I’ve learned over the years. Following these guidelines can ensure that your business and your family are strong and successful. 

Ten Tips for Working With Family

  1. Discuss and define the roles of each member. I highly recommend using the Kolbe Index to determine each person’s strengths and making sure that your roles fit within that. Finding your strengths and playing to them ensures minimizing stress with a bad job fit and allows you to build a team that is starting from a place of fulfillment. 
  2. Create a written agreement with your expectations. Like a contract, this document should include everything so that there are no assumptions—job title and duties, description, compensation, benefits, and expectations for the chain of command. Discuss everything beforehand and have both people sign. This creates a foundation for working in the future. 
  3. Pay employees based on their role in the company, not the family. If possible, create a profit-sharing plan to share the wealth of your success. Nothing makes a workplace toxic faster than the perception of favoritism when it comes to profits. 
  4. Have regular meetings to discuss successes and challenges. Communication is key. Don’t assume anything! Discuss issues immediately. Letting issues fester is a recipe for conflict at home and work. 
  5. Create boundaries of when you’re at work and when you’re at home. That family dinner should celebrate life outside of the office. 
  6. Keep things professional at work. This includes how you address each other. Call family members by their name, not a family title. My daughter never calls me Mom at work. I’m Julie. 
  7. Treat all employees equally. For example, don’t give preferential treatment to family members. Don’t overcompensate by being harder on family members. Treat everyone in the business with fairness. 
  8. Get an outside coach. Sometimes having a perspective from outside of the business and family is key to seeing issues clearly and can help squash conflict quickly. 
  9. Respect your roles and duties. Even if your son is the CFO and you are the founder, be respectful of his role and abide by the written job descriptions. After all, if he lacked the skills to do his job, you wouldn’t have given him the job. Trust their abilities. 
  10. State your company values and live by them, across the board, no exceptions. 

Sharing my business with my husband and kids has been one of the joys of my life, but it’s not without its pitfalls. With well thought out goals and direct communication, it can be rewarding, fun, and a fulfilling way to build something meaningful together. 

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