When advisors work in arranged teams with complementary skills, they may have developed a charter to define their roles and common goals, a code of conduct for communications, and a method for conflict resolution. They can then draw on these pre-existing structures to deal with any disagreements that arise.
But more often, independent advisors are brought in at different times and aren’t aware of the other advisors who are providing services.
This can happen with family-controlled enterprises, which often work with a variety of advisors to manage the complex interplay of operating a business and maintaining healthy relationships with family members. When advisors don’t know each other and what their roles and responsibilities are, this can create expensive service duplication – and even conflicting advice for clients.
Lack of awareness of the work that other advisors do often leads to confusion. Worse, advisors may be angling for better positioning with the client and may criticize or minimize the work of others. When this happens, the client can end up caught in the middle of dysfunctional relationships from the very people hired to fix problems within their firm.
For multi-disciplinary teams to work, advisors must leave their ego and self-interest at the door, but this is often easier said than done.
A model that has proven highly effective at team management is Collaborative Law, a Harvard-inspired negotiation system for separating families. Not many situations can rival the intensity of a divorce. Yet routinely the advisors in collaborative divorce negotiations must set aside their personal preferences and seek alignment to support their respective clients towards a resolution.
Various other useful features of Collaborative Law can be imported into the field of family enterprise advising.
1. Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the advisors involved.
In the field of family enterprises, more than one advisor may focus on the same problem. Ask the client that hired you who else might be working on some of these issues and get his or her permission to personally meet the other advisors, explaining why it may be highly beneficial. This is a well-established technique in team building and establishing trust.
2. Plan joint meetings or working sessions with a well-defined agenda, clear objectives and expectations.
Such meetings will help ensure team members are ready to contribute and tackle the issues that will be addressed in an efficient and well-coordinated manner. Clearly defining the problem and sharing information contribute to successful teamwork. It is helpful if the advisors agree in advance who will do what during the multi-party meeting: who will lead the conversations, who will keep track of time, who will record the action items and who will ensure that there is follow up as agreed during the meeting. Advisors could even discuss and agree on how to manage high emotions or difficult conversations if they think this is likely to arise.
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3. Learn how to give and receive constructive feedback.
This ensures any hurt feelings are cleared and that disagreements can be put to rest to avoid negatively influencing the future work together. An easy way to remember how to give feedback is referred to as the “sandwich feedback method.” This is where the person gives praise, followed by the constructive or corrective feedback, and followed by more praise.
Knowing what others are doing, being open to receiving constructive feedback, and making efforts to avoid redundancy will establish an environment where a family firm’s advisors routinely exchange clear, concise and accurate information leading to fiscally smart and emotionally sound decision making.