By Deborah Gantos

[Editor’s note: This is a composite of many cases I have facilitated in providing counsulting, counseling and training for dysfunctional family businesses. The names, places and characters have been changed to protect the guilty and guiltless: humor intended.]


Back in 1975, Joseph McGillicutty decided to open an Army Navy surplus store. Joseph fell in love and married the girl of his dreams: Griselda. She and Joe Sr. started raising a family. Joe Jr. was the first born. Six years later, Nancy was born. One year later, Jenny, the baby, was born. Jenny was her mother’s favorite and Nancy, her father’s “little girl.” Joe Jr. was the oldest boy and favored by both parents.

Mrs. McGillicutty was busy raising the children, while Joseph Sr. was running the business and increasing profits. Then, Griselda decided to go back to college and study business management. She graduated with honors.

At this time, the business started having difficulty. Previously, Joseph Sr. had been the sole leader and commanding officer of the business. After gaining so much knowledge, Griselda insisted she help run the business as a co-owner. Griselda wanted to implement what she had learned, supervising employees and making her presence and authority known.

McGillicutty employees were uncertain about which McGillicutty they should follow. Soon, Mr. and Mrs. M were fighting quite often, trying to gain control of the business. To resolve the situation, the McGillicuttys opened another store so that each of them could be in charge of their own store.

All seemed well for a time, until their children, having had no luck finding employment, decided to join the business. Fortunately, the McGillicutty business was doing well, so they opened a third store for “Little Jenny” to run. Her sister Nancy became the Sales Director for all three stores.

Unfortunately, Jenny, the “baby” of the family, felt she should be able to do whatever she wanted and was too inexperienced to run the third store.

Nancy, the Sales Director for all the stores, spent her time clubbing, drugging and abusing alcohol. Aside from her dad, everyone else disapproved of Nancy’s behavior, but no one was willing to confront her and make her accountable. Nancy’s sales record was deplorable.

The “family hero,” and eldest, Joe Jr., was the only one who was talented and worked hard, helping run stores one and two, which his parents ran.

It does not take a mental giant to figure out what happened next. Store 3 was the first to feel the effects of all this mismanagement. It was decided to close that store. Seeing the writing on the wall, the few loyal and experienced employees at Stores 1 and 2 started leaving to seek better, more stable employment.

Mrs. McGillicutty, with her business education, decided to engage a consultant to help their company survive. The name of the company was Dedicated Consulting Associates (DCA). The DCA team submitted a proposal of what they could do to help the McGillicutty family. Here is what it said:



  1. Dedicated Consulting Associates will provide the McGillicutty Company with 30 hours of management consulting designed to provide Family Meeting Facilitation Assistance and Training to be performed as follows:
  • Twenty (20) hours for assessment of current family dynamics (includes private interview with each family member)design and preparation of custom training session.
  • Sixteen (16) hours for training (three 4 hour sessions)
  • Four (4) hours mentoring and follow-up
  • Five (5) hours travel (1 hour per trip)
  • Total hours: 45
  • The fee for this engagement will be billed at the rate of $xxxx/ hour ($xxxx).
  1. Dedicated Consulting Associates will invoice on the first of the month for the previous month’s consultation. Payment is net 30 days.
  2. Additional projects will be treated as separate engagements and will be governed by specific agreements.
  3. Either party for any reason can cancel this engagement as long as seven days’ prior notice is conveyed in writing.


Family Communication and Meeting Facilitation. DCA will provide assistance and training in these two areas. Content will focus on communication; discussion and practical application of meeting process; meeting management techniques.  This program integrates various interdisciplinary theories and concentrates mainly on practical application issues.


  • Understand: the dynamics of a family owned business the negative effects of deficient communication
  • Discuss the purpose of the TRAITS INVENTORY
  • Administer and score the inventory.


The purpose of The Traits Inventory is to identify individual, personal traits and educate the participants on how this affects the work environment. Outcomes include: improving work and personal relationships, increasing productivity, identifying leadership and interpersonal communication preferences.

The Traits Inventory concentration of training will integrate practical techniques with solving real conflict issues in the McGillicutty Company.


  • Comprehend differences in individual personalities.
  • Discussion/practice in resolving differences and working more effectively with opposite types.


  • Basic meeting process and keeping meetings on track.
  • Practical application of interpersonal skills techniques.
  • Group process basics and team building techniques.


  • Communication and Conflict Management: listening skills; how to de-escalate conflict; how to manage interpersonal conflict; how to deal with hidden agendas and how to identify critical events that lead to conflict.)

Upon completion of the training, participants will:

  • Be conscious of the dynamics of the family owned business.
  • Learn strategies for planning and executing effective meetings.
  • Understand how to promote team building within the family.


Results of the Training

The McGillicutty family achieved some positive results. However, it is important that clients be informed that one training consultation does not perform miracles. An analogy might be someone going for mental health counseling. One or two sessions can help clients, but it takes several sessions to diagnose and treat the presenting problems. In the case of the McGillicuttys, measurable progress was achieved with the training.

  • Family members were able to act professionally and consult each other to develop agendas for meetings.
  • Meetings began including non-family members, who provided a less biased point of view.
  • Members took turns facilitating meetings, using what they learned to keep them on track and eliminate yelling and unnecessary drama.
  • Participants learned how to communicate more effectively and how to disagree by reaching consensus.
  • Attendees of the training sessions began to develop strategies to create an organization that fostered collaboration and team-building.

So what does all this mean?

During the course of many years of consulting, I have learned three things that improve the success of changing things for the better.

  • The first is continual and positive reinforcement of lessons learned.
  • The second is scheduled follow-up visits made by the consultants to facilitate this reinforcement, by observing and making suggestions for corrective action, if needed.
  • The third is being diligent in correcting back-sliding and applying consequences. Try positive first. If that fails, you need to use negative for maladaptive behaviors.

The more I read and interface with businesses, the more certain I am that MANY businesses have the problems discussed in this article. To sum it up in one sentence:

“It is easier to put out campfires than huge bonfires.”

Take action now, do not wait until it escalates and burns the house down.

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