The Who, What & How of Family Meetings
What worries you about having family meetings?
“Being told what to do and disrupting the status quo.”
“I’m afraid I’ll lose relationships with my family because of conflict.”
“There are significant others that might impact the current family harmony.”
“I don’t want my feelings to get hurt.”
“There might be a curveball thrown at me that I’m not expecting.”
“We might fail.”
These are some of the concerns and fears our audience members shared regarding family meetings at Roots: An Operating Manual for Family Meetings & Charters. We had the opportunity to learn from Deb Houden of Family Business Consulting Group on how to best implement family meetings and policies. We also heard incredible shared experiences from George Brown of Highlights Magazine and Jamie Richardson of White Castle – both large and successful fourth generation family businesses.
The two traits most commonly found in healthy families are shared decision-making and effective communication (Aronoff and Ward). Family meetings can foster trust, educate, keep balance, allow for communication and bridge generations. Yet, there are no absolute musts when creating your own family meetings. You have to do what is best for you and your family. Below are a few ideas and starting points to get you thinking if you’d like to implement family meetings.
WHO SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN FAMILY MEETINGS?
- Shareholders and Owners
- Spouses and Significant Others
- People can opt out of attending if they don’t feel they need to be there.
- If there are non-family minority owners, they should be invited to parts of the meeting, such as a State of the Business Address, and then leave during family topics.
- Define your rules such as: What is considered a “significant other”? At what age can children be invited?
WHO SHOULD DO WHAT?
- Facilitator (can be an outside advisor or family member from within)
- Committees (set agenda, plan meeting location and retreat)
- Scribe to take notes
- Consider rotating roles for each meeting so everyone feels accountable for the agenda and outcomes.
- What are creative ways you can involve and include the next-generation to maintain their interest (specifically younger children)?
HOW SHOULD MEETINGS BE MANAGED?
- Set ground rules that everyone follows (penalties included!)
- Leave baggage at the door (anything that will be a distraction that isn’t related to the day’s agenda – such as personal issues)
- Implement brainstorming sessions that everyone can participate in
- Create a decision-making process that everyone can agree on
- Operate with the end goal in mind. What is your idea of family harmony?
WHAT SHOULD WE TALK ABOUT?
- Family Development (learning, planning philanthropy, skill building, policies)
- Family Enterprise (innovation, information sharing, director presentation)
- Family Cohesion (vision, mission, history, support, dreams)
- Family Fun (games, activities, talent shows)
- It is important to play together as well as work together. Divide your meeting into 1/3 Fun, 1/3 Policy, 1/3 Educational
WHAT HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL FOR OTHER FAMILIES?
- Commit to a balance of work and play
- Include spouses at the meetings to eliminate the opportunity for facts to be skewed in separate conversations
- Create an agenda and follow it
- Keep to a time limit
- Alternate who presents at each meeting so everyone gets the opportunity to present (creates engagement and accountability)
- Bring in trusted advisors such as your accountant or succession planner to educate the family on what they do so everyone understands
The most important thing about implementing family meetings is to simply start having them. They will not be 100% perfect and successful in the beginning; but, together you can make adjustments as needed. Use the above tips to get started, draft an agenda and pick a time to meet together to discuss business and family issues (remember to have a little fun too!).
For additional resources on family meetings and policies from our Roots course, CFBC Members can access them on the Members-Only site.