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Supporting the Family Business: A Coaching Practitioner's Handbook (The Professional Coaching Series)
- A Book Review


Supporting the Family Business: A Coaching Practitioner's Handbook is written by Manfusa Shams and David A Lane & published by Karnac Books Ltd (UK) in 2016.

Most business coaches who work with owners of family managed companies find that expectations from coaching and coaches are very different here from a professional firm. Some of the dilemmas they often face -

  • whether the coaching intervention is for the benefit of the business or the family or both
  • how does one draw boundaries for involvement beyond the workplace
  • are tools available to analyze, present and reflect on the dynamics of family relationships.

If you have been troubled by any of these questions - this book is a useful read.

It is written with the dual intention identifying coaching needs of family businesses as well as providing a framework for coaches to learn from their own practice in this area.

While family owned firms are a significant majority in the world of business and have been there much longer, there is very little published work dedicated to coaching in this context. This book fills the gap beautifully - drawing from experiences of practitioners (many of whom have been business owners) and expertise from family science and coaching psychology. If you would like to go deep into the subject, you might to also like go through the author's earlier scholarly work entitled "Coaching in the Family Owned Business - A path to Growth" (Karnac -2011) which is more like a reference book on the subject.

A family centered coaching approach calls for an intervention for the family that makes it a more cohesive and a better functional unit. Coaching begins with understanding & clarifying roles within the family before setting goals for the business. Coaching stakeholders for roles within business and the family is often carried out side by side.

The authors suggest the use of some new tools and frameworks from family science to analyze the structure and dynamics of family relationships and their likely impact on the business. Family genograms that plot hierarchical and emotional relationships and Ecomaps that show how different systems impact an individual can be used to create powerful visual storyboards for workshops. "Family sculpting" is a creative exercise for members to comment on how they feel in their allocated positions.

The coach has to concurrently deal with 3 issues - family, ownership and managing the business. Winning trust of the family is of prime importance and this takes time and patience. Dominant themes in coaching family members include

  • Managing Change (Succession Planning, Letting Go)
  • Communication Skills (Conflict Resolution, Mediation Skills)
  • Balancing business & personal relations
  • Clarity of roles

Coaching professional managers in leadership roles who do not belong to the family brings up issues like accountability without responsibility, decision making based on whims rather than facts and lack of objective criteria for performance management and feedback.

The authors believe that coaching should enable learning also for coaches and have come up with an interesting framework for enabling reflection and self analysis for improving practice in this area.

What I liked about the book was its multi-disciplinary approach (use of family science and coaching psychology) and the cases used for illustration. Questions may arise as to the cross cultural applicability of concepts and techniques discussed, since most of the illustrations are drawn from the West. In my view this is not a serious limitation as most stakeholders in the current generation of family business owners even in emerging economies have studied and worked in the West and face similar issues.

However, given that the understanding of coaching & acceptance of family coaching will vary across geographies - many of the tools & techniques will require extensive customization before application.

*The reviewer is a coach and consultant focused on business strategy, growth and transformation. He has been working closely with owners of family businesses seeking scale and global reach through induction of professional managers. He has held leadership positions with industry leaders that have successfully built organizations leveraging the synergy of family and professionals. With qualifications in engineering from IIT-Kanpur & management from IIM-Ahmedabad he brings in over 30 years of professional experience as a business manager, coach and consultant. He has strong interests in technology and is currently involved with several start-ups in emerging businesses.

This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Amitabha Sinha: amitabha@cornerstone.co.in

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). This article on the ICF Mumbai website does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.