Coaching can offer vital support to family businesses, guiding members in relationship conflicts, for example.

Manfusa Shams and David Lane report

With the global economy increasingly built on contributions from family businesses, it’s important to help them grow sustainably. One effective means of supporting these businesses is coaching, but it requires a specialist, blended approach.

In the UK alone, it’s estimated that around 4.6 million businesses are from family firms, employing almost 12 million people and contributing a quarter of GDP in the UK (IFB, 2016). The right support at the right time can make all the difference to the sustainability of these businesses.

Coaching can provide essential guidance and constructive intervention for the continuous development of a family business using relevant psychological principles, including the personal and professional development of all those involved. Family business coaching involves a blended approach to address issues related to a family itself and their businesses separately (Shams and Lane, 2011). Coaching in this context thus requires specialist techniques and tools with an approach in which equal attention is paid to the family dynamics, and to the family business functions.

The diverse nature of families and family-owned businesses can’t be addressed using a single coaching technique. Effective family business coaching draws not only on the cumulative experiences of coaching practitioners, but on a range of effective coaching techniques and tools for the family businesses, such as, SWOT analysis, stakeholders mapping, family life tools, Belbin Team Roles (which identify nine different behaviours that individuals display in the workplace) and so on.

We expand on these in our book (Shams and Lane, 2016), and explore selected coaching issues for family businesses using a reflective practitioner’s experiential approach in which practitioners continuously evaluate their coaching, reflecting on their performance, and on how to improve their practices using the evaluation of their previous coaching experiences.

Reflecting on the previous coaching practices can enable a practitioner to learn from their coaching practices, and use the learning to develop appropriate techniques and tools for the family business coaching. In addition, an evaluation of the practice-based coaching approach can also add further value to the application of appropriate psychological knowledge and theoretical models to develop effective coaching techniques and tools.

The key and critical areas in a family-centred approach in coaching family-owned businesses include the following:

  • An inclusive approach to address group dynamics
  • Applications of self-directed learning to generate customised effective tools and techniques for family businesses
  • Use of interdisciplinary and transferable skills to develop a blended coaching approach for family businesses
  • Continuous development of practitioners’ skills and competencies to align with family business coaching practice
  • Team effort: to ensure success, both coach and client need to work together, drawing on practitioners’ reflective learning experiences, and making sure of the needs for family-owned businesses to exercise good practices in their businesses using the relevant outcomes from the coaching interventions.


The case study (A father’s dream, see below) shows how family business coaching explored relationships and wellbeing among others. Sham and Lane (2016) offer a range of case studies drawn from each practitioner’s own case report, while retaining the anonymity of the coachees/family members.

The critical discussions outlined in Sham and Lane (2016) were supported by relevant practice-based evidence and ethically driven practical examples. For example, all co-authors are active practitioners in family business coaching, and their arguments in each chapter were developed based on their own coaching experiences, and reflection on their performance in coaching in this context.

To summarise, family business coaching can help these businesses to maintain a strong position in the economy through the application of relevant psychological knowledge. The sustainable growth of family-owned businesses along with the personal and professional development of family members engaged in family businesses can be enhanced using an effective coaching intervention.


  • Dr Manfusa Shams is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society
  • Professor David A Lane is director of Professional Development Foundation in the UK


Top Tips

On coaching in family businesses

  • Pay attention to both the business aspects and family dynamics
  • Take a family-centred approach in coaching
  • Address family relationship issues such as communication, favouritism (real and perceived), decision-making, rivalry and competitiveness, conflict management, personal goals, personal strengths and limitations, culture and values, family cohesion and integration, knowledge and understanding of family business history
  • Consider business operations, governance and succession issues in a family context
  • Develop a genealogy of family business to trace its historical development and generic pathway
  • Apply a blended coaching approach for a family and their businesses using interdisciplinary techniques. These include: family therapy, organisational behaviour, transactional analysis, counselling and group dynamics
  • Generate interests and trust with the family
  • To build trust, ensure the intervention is built on ethical principles, a professional code of conduct, and emphasise confidentiality and professional liability
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques only, such as appreciative inquiry, solution-focused, life tools, relationship mapping tools, organisational tools and psychological measurements
  • Align family coaching with family business coaching


References and further information

  • Belbin:
  • Institute of Family Business (2016), ‘IFB responds to HMRC consultation on disclosure of tax avoidance schemes’
    (Accessed 28 July, 2016)
  • M Shams and D Lane, Coaching in the Family Owned Business: A Path to Growth, London: Karnac Books, 2011
  • M Shams and D Lane, Supporting the Family Business: A Coaching Practitioner’s Handbook, London: Karnac Books, 2016


Case Study

A father’s dream

A father has persuaded his only daughter to join the family garden centre business despite her interest in developing her career in the media and publicity sector.

With continuous pressure from her father and the fear of being excluded from the family, she has reluctantly joined the business. However, she has been failing to engage with the business due to her inability to develop ‘family in business identity’, distancing herself from the family and family business issues.

Using a relationship mapping technique (genogram – a pictorial display of relationships) and working with the concept of identity crisis, a coach was able to draw the father’s attention to the failure of his daughter to align her identity as a family member with that of the ‘family in business’, while also failing to accept the family business meta-identity due to her lack of interest. Underlying this conflict was the daughter’s poor health, and the breakdown in her relationship with her father.

A useful technique here is to explore the family business as if it were a boardroom, mapping out the functional capabilities of each family member in the

Figure 1 displays the interface between power, family politics, conflict, communication, relationship, finance, and business alignment in a family business context.

Failure to integrate these aspects in a family business may lead to poor wellbeing and crisis in business.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply