4 Lessons Learned from Family Meetings

Most of my lessons are learned the hard way…from making mistakes.

Over the last 20 years, being exposed to the CFBC and continuous learning has often inspired me (and our family business, MEGAPros) to implement best practices into our own family and business. Some worked and some failed miserably. Implementing family meetings was one goal that no matter what we tried, we struggled.

Having family meetings was the right thing for the right reason. We wanted open communication between the brothers and partners in order to strengthen the family and business. But most importantly, Joe and I wanted everyone on the same page with the same goal in mind.

In reflection of our journey in implementing family meetings, we wanted to share all of the mistakes we believe we made along the way (I’m certain there are more than just these four, but it’s a start).

Exclusive vs. Inclusive: Remember, I’m the spouse of the founder and in the beginning the wives were not included in family meetings. The result of this was that we grew further apart as a family and triangles started to form. Feelings were hurt and alliances were built. Lesson Learned: Include spouses and any other family members that have a stake in the business in family meetings.

Tools to communicate: At the time, we didn’t use a facilitator or have any tools to open up communication. I didn’t know what Fair Process was, yet those early meetings were compromised of us trying to convince the family what we should do. We didn’t allow everyone the opportunity to have a voice or come to a consensus together. Lesson Learned: Utilize a moderator or communication tools to give everyone the opportunity to speak what is on his or her mind. Read our blog post on healthy communication for a start.

The agenda: The agenda for each meeting was ours alone rather than allowing the family members to decide what was important to them. Lesson Learned: Create an agenda but give each person the chance to bring up topics that are relevant to them.

Full disclosure: We run our business with open book management. However, we made the mistake of assuming that everyone in the family understood the financials. There was no education component built into the meetings. Again, this was a big mistake. Lesson Learned: Never pass up an opportunity to educate. The more the family and team knows about the business, the better.

As a result of these mistakes, trust crumbled!

It may seem obvious to you that we did wrong. But, if we had focused on what a family meeting truly is, it might have helped us.

Business Families Foundation says family meetings are an intentional action with a purpose. The purpose is to meet regularly in order to raise and address current and future issues, to exchange views, to share dreams, to communicate harmoniously, build trust by listening to one another and to make decisions together as a family. Family meetings can be organized for a few participants and be relatively informal or very large and structured, depending on the size of your family. At MEGAPros, our family meetings are on the small side.

This sounds easy enough, right? The hardest part is determining when to implement these meetings and figuring out how to get everyone in the room together. Remember that overcoming this hurdle is crucial early on. Making time to work on the family and the business is always hard.

Start having family meetings early in order to build habits of open and honest communication. Allow space for family members to seek clarity and understand issues before any conflicts arise.

Another important element of developing healthy family communication is creating family policies and a family charter together.  Some examples of policies and charters are codes of conduct (how are we going to communicate to one another?), mission and vision (what type of legacy does the family want to create?) and employment and compensation policies (What requirements does a family member have to meet in order to join the business?).

For guidance on getting these best practices in place, I hope you can join us on Wednesday, August 17th for Roots: An Operating Manual for Family Meetings & Charters. We have some truly excellent speakers coming to share their experiences and expertise on this topic. You’ll leave with the basic knowledge of how to get started, including samples and templates. Click here for more information and to register.

Judy Headshot 2015 FINAL

Have a joyful day,

Judy Hogel

Executive Director, Chicago Family Business Council

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