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4 Reasons to Avoid Working with Family-And 5 To Do it Anyway

If you’re considering a collaborative project with family, this is for you, though anyone managing a team will find value.

Two young brown-skinned sisters sit side-by-side smiling at each other. The older sister wears her hair in twists. The younger sister wears her hair natural. They both wear yellow spring dresses.
Photo by nappy:

If you have a sibling, then you’ve been in a heated debate or even a full on fight. 

Barbies fly. Eyes roll. Someone gets tied up and left in a closet.

The tumbles and squeals of bickering children are familiar sounds, ones that I’ve both created as the oldest sister of three girls and mitigated as a parent of two.

Fast forward 30 years. Swap your childhood home as the background for your sibling squabble for one with conference tables and Zoom calls.

If the most important things in life revolve around love and family, why does working with loved ones seem daunting? 

Often our beliefs are rooted in fear. 

Fear that personal drama will spill over and complicate our work.

Fear that we won’t set clear boundaries between productive and play time.

Fear of an uncomfortable power struggle stemming from a childhood rivalry.

Fear that the collaboration won’t be taken seriously and family won’t be held accountable.

Beyond these fears, however, could lie a trove of opportunities that benefit your collaborative project, your relationship, and even your taxable income.

. . . . . . .

I’ve just completed my first professional collaboration with a sister where we combined her expertise in event logistics and management and my communications savvy to support a national healthcare conference with a 29 year history.

My sister wrangled details and activated programs from a dozen professionals across management and leadership, partnerships, marketing, and finance.

I stood virtually at her side to support project management and to counsel the marketing team on strategy, content and script development.

I knew my sister was stellar before we started to collaborate. 

For more than a decade, I’ve heard about the challenges and joy of managing logistics for major conventions and trade shows over WhatsApp. I’ve kept up with her Instagram travel and events promotions. In 2008, I joined her at the Democratic National Convention in Denver when she served as the Committee’s Associate Director of Housing.

But now, I’m impressed.

I see that she too inherited the need to be constantly in motion — always on the move but rooted in a commitment to the people who look to her for leadership.

I discovered her amazing talent for organization. 

Most other people aren’t excited by Asana boards and color-coded spreadsheets, but these resources answered questions about team members, content placement, and timelines with precision.

When our collaboration kicked off, I wondered if we’d survive the experience unscathed and with emotions intact, but we did, and here’s how you can too.

. . . . . . .

1. Collaborate with family to gain better perspective, wisdom and new-found appreciation.

Get comfortable with an unexpected role reversal.

I’ve always been the big sister — taking charge and handing out advice, proudly since 1984. In this collaboration, the tables turned, and my sister was in the driver’s seat, setting the pace, assigning deliverables, and holding the team accountable. I saw her in a different context and gained a new perspective. She wasn’t little Shyanne. She was a boss. MY boss even! And a good one at that.

2. Collaborate with family to learn how to shine together.

Learn to leverage and defer to each other’s strengths.

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” as they say. 

Stick with me for a few more clichés.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

Each collaborator shouldn’t play the same role or be responsible for advancing the same things. It is wiser to divide based on strengths and conquer.

“Being a jack of all trades leaves you as a master of none.”

Each collaborator brings a special talent, skill or passion. Stand strong in where you excel and create space for collaborators to shine in theirs.

Run your race and pass the baton.

3. Collaborate with family to strengthen your ability to communicate and stick to your boundaries.

Set clear expectations and share them regularly.

Everyone leads a different life with unique commitments and responsibilities. A successful collaboration with family requires recognition and respect for personal boundaries to ensure everyone’s obligations can be honored at work and at home. 

Just as you would maintain boundaries in other professional relationships, so too must you when kin become collaborators. If you don’t, you will regret it when work begins to bleed into your personal time. 

Be clear on what each collaborator can do and when. 

Some projects will require more intense collaboration or move at a faster pace than others. Make sure that everyone understands what’s required and each other’s capacity.

While an equal contribution isn’t always the goal, delivering on one’s promise always should be.

4. Collaborate with family to get better at managing diverse work styles.

Acknowledge differences and be open to finding common ground.

Some team members find comfort in planning every step, while others prefer to dive headfirst into the action. Neither step is inherently superior or the “right way” to get the job done.

If developing a comprehensive plan feels overwhelming, opt for a simplified bulleted list of to-dos and important dates to keep your project on track.

If daily check-ins prove to be anxiety-ridden distractions, consider a weekly update by email or in a project management tool to kick off or recap each week.

Collaborating with family offers a unique learning opportunity in this regard because of the patience and understanding we extend to the people we love. There’s a willingness to work through challenges and adapt when it comes to family, in a way that may elude us in other professional relationships.

5. Collaborate with family to have more fun and give more love at work.

Take small moments to remind collaborators that you value and appreciate them.

When individuals feel valued and appreciated, they are more inclined to give their best effort and work through conflict with openness and understanding. This is especially true when working with family, where sacrifices are often made to pursue shared endeavors. Whether it’s balancing a side project alongside a full time job, or adjusting rates for the sake of collaboration, love becomes the driving force that bridges any gaps. Take the time to regularly acknowledge and reinforce this love through small gestures and reminders in email, over Zoom, in person.

Have you ever mixed family and business? If so, what were the keys to success in your collaboration? What successes and challenges did you face and overcome? Share with me in a comment below. 

Did you enjoy this story? Join my Inner Circle email list to receive future insights and stories on work life, family, strategy, and communications. Thanks for reading!



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