The Player-Coach: How to Build a Sibling Team
Barb Dartt, DVM, MS
View from bottom of basket ball and net looking up into clear blue sky.

Since Bill Russell’s approach isn’t feasible for siblings in business together, consider the two practices I believe are the hallmarks of effective sibling teams. They embrace the challenge of being BOTH a player and a coach at any given moment by:

1. Investing in becoming an autonomous sibling team that can operate independently of the senior generation; and

2. Defining who makes decisions and how those decisions are made


Build Your Sibling Team

An effective sibling team must be a bit more evolved than a sole senior generation member. Yes, in a dictatorship, decisions happen quickly! But the business doesn’t benefit from the breadth of skills and perspectives required for it to grow and prosper. As Bill Russell can tell you, a team doesn’t win just because you draft a lot of talent. A team must practice together to be great. Practice, in a business setting, means investing in regular meetings together. At these meetings, do the following:

  • Work on your individual and team skills of listening and sharing your own viewpoint. Few of us are naturally gifted at effective communication. If you work at it, though, you will get better. And to work at it, you must “practice” together regularly.
  • Learn how to manage your conflict. You will have conflict – it’s a natural part of family in business together. Practice talking about these expected differences openly and respectfully. To get better at this, you need the opportunity that regular meetings provide.
  • Figure out what you each want from the future. What do you want from your career or employee role in the business? What kind of compensation do you expect? Is it important to you that the next generation have a shot at working together? What do your siblings want? Are you sure, or are you guessing, based on hints and clues you’ve picked up?


At some point, these meetings need to happen separately from the senior generation (let’s call the senior generation “dad” from now on). A sibling team needs to develop its own identity. They need to learn to lean on each other and negotiate how they will handle the overlap in the player and coach roles.


If dad is still around and has a key role in the business, these meetings should still happen without him. In this case, the sibling team should meet (without dad), develop a joint recommendation and then share with dad so he can weigh in on the final call. It might feel redundant. I’ve had clients say, “Can’t we just include him in the meeting? Why do we need to talk about things twice?” Dad’s presence in the room has an impact on the discussion, even if he doesn’t say a word. The sibling team must learn to communicate, have conflict and come to their own conclusions.


Sometimes, parents talk about how much they want siblings to “step up and take responsibility,” at that same time that they discourage this critical work of forming their own independent team. “The tug-of-war in which the sibling team tests its autonomy and the parents assert their power is almost as natural as night and day.”


Start having these meetings. Practice working as a real team. Even if the senior generation is skeptical or resistant.


Sibling teams can be a challenging way to manage and own a business. Recognize the work it will take to be a success, as a team. Embrace your role as both a player AND a coach by investing the time and effort (the practice!) it takes to be a strong team. The rewards for your family and business will be great.


1 Taylor, John (2005). The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. New York City: Random House. p. 280. ISBN 1-4000-6114-8.

2 Aronoff, C. E. (2011). Making sibling teams work: the next generation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.



Barb is a consultant with the Family Business Consulting Group, working with families and management teams to help them keep their business healthy and the people happy. Barb can be reached at 269-382-0539 or


The opinions stated herein are not necessarily those of GreenStone Farm Credit Services.

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