Being in business with family members involves some unique dynamics that are not present with other types of business arrangements. Sometimes, issues that are totally unrelated to the business can become disruptive, such as personal/relational conflicts, and some of these may go back several years or even decades.
During the COVID-19 crisis, many family members have been cooped up together for an extended period of time, causing many disputes that may have been simmering underneath the surface to boil over. And in some cases, the family business has also had to close temporarily, adding more stress to the situation.
Family business disputes that are triggered by issues that blow up during the heat of the moment can cause long-term damage, possibly even leading to the closure of the business. And oftentimes, it is difficult for family members who are so close to the situation to resolve these matters among themselves. Unfortunately, the emotions and stress created by the unprecedented times we are living in could cause the owners of a family business to call it quits, even though they might still have a viable business that could continue on and be passed down to future generations.
How Mediation Can Help Family-Owned Businesses that are Facing Difficult Times
Whether it is a conflict between owners that poses an existential threat to the family business or difficulty figuring out how to navigate the uncharted waters ahead as we look forward to the end of the coronavirus pandemic, owners can benefit greatly by bringing in an outside perspective.
A mediator, for example, can help resolve disputes between owners, and they can also help with issues the business may have with outside parties; such as suppliers, vendors, lessors, or other associates for which they may need to renegotiate their existing agreements. Mediators can also help create a more formal operating agreement for the business, one which many family businesses have realized that they need since COVID-19 started.
Here are some of the advantages that mediation offers for family businesses with issues that need to be resolved:
- Affordability: Mediation is cost-effective not only as an alternative to bringing a dispute to court, but also as a preventative measure to keep major disputes from arising in the first place. In most cases, business owners can settle important issues in just a few sessions or less, saving them untold amounts of time and money.
- Direct Participant Involvement: The mediation process is entirely voluntary, and no agreement can be valid unless all participants agree. Although the mediator facilitates the sessions, the participants are the ones that ultimately decide how the issues are resolved. This allows participants to take more ownership of whatever is agreed upon, making them more likely to adhere to it.
- Confidentiality: Mediation sessions are private and confidential, and everything that is discussed stays between the participants and the mediator. This allows participants to speak more freely without any concern that what is said will become part of a public record.
- Flexible Scheduling: With mediation, you do not have to worry about any court schedule, which is of particular concern lately with the courts being closed for all but emergency proceedings. Sessions can be conducted even while the COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, and they can be scheduled at whatever time is most convenient for participants.
- Contactless Remote Sessions: Mediation can be conducted while adhering to social distancing guidelines. As long as you have a telephone or internet connection, business owners can participate in virtual mediation sessions from any physical location.
At AMS, we hope that family businesses will consider mediation as an option to resolve disputes and other issues, whether you use us or someone else. However, one major benefit you will receive with us is our first-hand experience working with businesses of all types and sizes.