This week we are back to the “5 Things you Need to Know” format, and our subject comes via an emailed question.
An overseas colleague and fellow Family Firm Institute member recently asked me for my thoughts around family meetings.
Rather that send her a lengthy reply, I told her I would write this blog in response, and I hope that many of you find it useful.
(Note: we are talking here about enterprising families having an occasional get-together with many family members, some of whom are involved in business matters, along with many who are not.)
- Involve Many People
The more people you can have involved in planning the meeting, the better. Input and ideas should be solicited from as many of the participants as possible beforehand, and it should never appear to be a one-person show.
Furthermore, on the “many people” front, the execution of the meeting(s) or day(s) should also feature as many different people in leadership roles as possilbe, and active involvement by everyone (as opposed to passive) is a must.
- Not Just Business
The business aspects of the meeting are naturally important, otherwise you likely wouldn’t go through the trouble of officially convening everyone in the first place. But please resist the temptation to make it “all business”.
If you want people to look forward to these events and attend them regularly (see No.3, below), they ought to have reasons to look forward to them.
A mix of business, fun as a large group, education, fun in smaller groups, downtime, physical activity, icebreakers, and just plain socializing are all worthwhile considerations for the schedule.
- Regular, Repeating Forum
An error that some families make is to try to have THE family meeting, once, to finally share a bunch of information that they have been keeping private for a long time. That is rarely the best course to pursue.
Rather, having regular meetings, on a repeating basis (annual, semi-annual, or other) is almost always a better idea. Those in attendance who are new to much of the content need time to absorb it, learn, and get up to speed before they can even conceive of the questions they’ll have.
The idea is to have a “forum”, or “an exchange of views” that brings out interaction and learning, which is better suited to a regular and repeating event, with an agenda that evolves over time.
- Past History and Future Outlook
Most family businesses considering holding this type of meeting have been around for a few decades.
So, sharing stories and facts about the history of the business, 10 and 20 and 30 years ago (or often much longer) can help give everyone in attendance a better appreciation of what came before, including major milestones, successes, and failures.
The trip through time should not necessarily end with today, though. Projecting another 10 or 20 years ahead, and getting various points of view on how family members see the business and their potential future involvement is also an opportunity that should not be missed.
- Process is More Important than Content
You may approach the idea of a family meeting as a chance to tell, teach, or share a number of important pieces of information with those members of the family who are less aware than others, in order to “level the playing field” and make everyone feel involved.
That is a noble idea, and at the same time, the temptation for too much content is always there. People who are thirsty for information are not always best served with a fire hose.
A habit of regular meetings, with the participation of many people, including interactivity, talking and listening, sharing of information to level of the information playing field, getting to know each other better, and of course having fun, are the ways to judge the success of family meetings.
The processes involved in all of this are what you need to get right, and the actual content is secondary.
When you get different people volunteering to serve on various committees to plan parts of the next meeting, you will know that you have launched a worthwhile venture that will stand the family in good stead for the long term.
Although you won’t likely get there quickly, slowly but surely it can be done. And you will all be glad you made the effort.