3 Simple Rules for Setting Family & Business Boundaries


Family and business don’t mix together, or do they?

Co-founder and CEO of Infusionsoft, Clate Mask, would tell us that building a $60 million business with over 400 employees (many of whom are family and friends), and doing it with two brother in-laws, was not easy, but it can be done well if the right boundaries are set from the get go.

There are plenty of pro’s and con’s as to family members working together, and we wrote a blog about how to avoid conflict and create optimal work environment for family members.

In today’s blog, we’ll focus on setting three simple boundaries in order to protect both the family as well as the business from interfering with each other’s purpose and objectives.

Protect Family Time

This is much easier said than done. Even for spouses who do not work for the same business, work often becomes the topic of the conversation at the dinner table. The temptation to cross the family / business boundary while at home becomes that much greater when two or more members of the family work for the family business.

In an interview with Eric T. Wagner, Clate Mask says:

“Although we do allow conversations about business around the dinner table, I’m adamant about just being 'dad’ in the mornings. I will often work later in the night, but my early evenings are blocked for family only. Having strength in my family relationships makes me a better CEO and leader of Infusionsoft.”

Mask recognizes that business, if allowed, could penetrate every aspect of life, and he made a decision to protect family time. He understands that having a strong family ultimately impacts the way he leads his organization.

Protecting our family time may look different for all of us. There is no one formula that fits all, but here are few ideas you can try:

  • Establish “no business talk” rule during dinner. If you have children, ask them lots of questions about their day or about issues they are struggling with.

  • Having dinner together every day of the week is often impossible, but set aside at least 1-2 days a week as a family dinner night. Magic happens around the dinner table. Families grow closer together at the dinner table. In a recent Columbia University study, 71% of teenagers said they consider talking, catching-up, and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. Research examining 5,000 teenagers has shown that when children eat with their parents regularly, they are more likely to be emotionally strong and have better mental health. 

  • If your spouse is part of a family business, set aside one morning or one evening a week to spend time with your spouse (it could be a dinner date or a breakfast together) and talk about everything BUT business!

Protect the Integrity of The Business

It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely imperative that we don’t set different standards for family members versus non-family member employees. This makes much sense on the surface, yet it’s probably one of the most ignored family & business boundaries.

We do this because our natural instinct is to put relationships (and family) first.

You notice that a family member is slacking at work, not really pulling his or her weight, what do you do?  One of your family members is coming in late and leaving early on a regular basis, do you just give them a pass? You witness a family member disrespect another employee, how do you react?

When we make a decision that benefits a family member but hurts our business, we actually put the relationship and the business in danger.

In order to protect both the relationships and the integrity of our business, we can:

  • Set high(er) expectations for family members from the get go. Talk openly about this before a family member comes on board.

  • Have written policies dealing with issues like: performance reviews, work time, promotions, using business assets for personal purpose, etc.

  • Set clear and measurable goals for every family member working in the business

  • Establish fair conflict resolution guidelines that include family and non-family members

Protect Relationships

Losing family relationships over business is not worth it. People always come first. Relational strain due to unresolved business issues is common, so what boundaries can we set to protect business issues from ruining family relationships?

  • Never gossip. Make a commitment to never talk about one family member to another about work related issue. Instead, make a commitment to confront directly. Here is what Mask has to say about handling work related disagreements with family members:

“We’ve (Mask and his brother-in-law, Scott Martineau) had many passionate disagreements. We’ve gotten pretty worked up, raised our voices and banged on a couple of tables. However, when our discussion was over, we’ve made sure to leave the room only after a big hug and having made peace. We make sure others in the company understand that although there is disagreement, we are moving forward in harmony.”

  • Say “I’m sorry often. Don’t be afraid to show humility and admit you were wrong. Learning how to apologize and ask for forgiveness will go a long way in maintaining healthy family relationships.

  • Don’t abuse / use family relationship to advance your business.

Family and business boundaries often get blurred. Understanding dangers of crossing those boundaries is the first step in protecting both the family as well as the business.

Sometimes it takes an outsider, someone who can objectively look at the family and the business dynamic to help you see blurred lines, and to put a plan together for setting clear boundaries.

If you’d like to talk to someone about your family business and about identifying and setting clear family & business boundaries, we’d be happy to talk to you! Click here to connect with us.