Good Management Requires Openness


In organizational theory, it is believed that open systems (ones that receive input from the environment) tend toward higher levels of organization/energy while closed systems can only maintain or decrease in organization/energy. In other words, the success of any organization relies on its ability to create and sustain energy through openness and feedback.

Although this notion is steeped in science, simpler (and truer!) words have never been said. And as the CEO of a leadership development company who preaches the importance of inclusion and collaboration on a daily basis, it’s nice to know that science is there to back me up. But how can family-owned businesses apply this theory while still ensuring a healthy balance between family needs versus non-family needs? Here are 3 management structures guaranteed to create the all-important open system.

1. Develop a Leadership Team. As the leader/owner of a family business, you know what you know. That’s the good news and the bad news. Once an organization reaches 20 employees and/or $10M in revenue, it becomes virtually impossible to keep an ear to the ground, hand on the rudder, and head above water all on your own. It’s time to enlist the perspectives of others in order to stay on top of all issues that arise.

To that end, take a look around your organization and identify a select few outside of the family who can provide you with all vantage points on the business, including the ability to discuss “sensitive” topics that would remain underground should an issue involve a family member. Aside from genetics, diversity of thought, position, tenure, and strengths are essential components to building a team that will foster an “open system”. Consider these questions as you assemble your crew:

Is each business unit and/or discipline represented?

Have I invited at least one person who frequently pushes back on my ideas?

Am I involving multiple generations? (i.e., Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y)

Are there remote workers that could provide a unique perspective?

Am I comfortable speaking and hearing the unabashed truth from each of these people? If not, why? And how can I improve those relationships?

After identifying your leadership team, hold monthly meetings to report in and stay current. Develop ground rules and a code of conduct to ensure expectations are clear.

2. Establish an Advisory Board. Every business, regardless of size, structure or genetic makeup, needs both the motivation and objectivity that only an Advisory Board can provide. If the success of an organization depends on a consistent exchange of information and feedback, then this surely speaks to that.

While you have your Leadership Team in place to bring diverse perspectives from within the company, you now need to engage members who can deliver viewpoints outside of your organization’s peripheral vision. Advisory Boards not only provide well-timed reality checks, they can also increase accountability at all levels. When more than one family member is involved in the business, increased accountability can be invaluable in ensuring all parties are treating the business as a business and not a personal hobby or (gasp!) personal bank account.
As with developing your Leadership Team, aim to seek diversity within your Advisory Board. Involve those not only from your industry but from others as well. Also, try to place at least one member who has grown a company from your size to the next level. Their insights will prove invaluable to you!
3. Hold Family Meetings. The third component rests within the system itself – the family. After all, it’s why the business exists in the first place and its importance shouldn’t be minimized.

As a family member, the long-term success of the business can be no more important to anyone than to you. As the saying goes, “Blood is thicker than water.” Which is great, of course, unless your family consists of one or more vampires hungry for a good old-fashioned bloodletting. After all, what family worth its salt doesn’t like to take a stab or two at other family members? Hence, my recommendations in bullets 1 and 2. Anyhow, I digress…
As family members, you are cut from the same cloth and the germ of brilliance that was shared by the founding member(s) will reside in the next generation as well. That rich soil must be cultivated. For smaller companies, hold at least one family meeting a year where each member actively involved in the business is represented. For companies that employ many family members, hold this meeting but also form a ‘Family Council’ with decision-making power to sort through any issues that arise from those meetings.

Employing this 3-pronged approach to your management structure will not only assist in creating and sustaining an “open system”, the framework of each group will allow you to align your business and achieve maximum benefit from all.


Halley Bock is the CEO of Seattle-based Fierce, Inc., a leadership development and training company that drives results for businesses by improving workplace communication.




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